Isolated places: Kingman Reef

You might have imagined that no piece of dry land could be as unlivable as Clipperton or Jarvis Islands.  However, there is a patch of land on Earth that would definitely never be able to support even a single human inhabitant.  67 kilometers northwest of Palmyra Atoll, Kingman Reef is a United States possession that has never had any kind of human population not counting brief visits for scientific or exploration purposes.

Kingman Reef might be a bit of a cheat in this case, because it’s only sometimes dry land – the highest point of this reef is only 1.5 meters above the Pacific’s average level, and even that patch of land is often underwater.


Despite its inhospitability and the danger it poses to passing ships of running aground, Kingman Reef does play a small part in the history of the Pacific.  Like many of its friends in the Pacific, the reef was added to the long list of US possessions in the mid-1800s as a guano island.  In 1934, the US Navy assumed control over the reef and allowed its use in the late 30s as a midway point for seaplane flights between Hawaii and American Samoa.  And in 1941, after the Japanese declaration of war on the US, the reef was added to the line of defense established throughout the American-held Line Islands against Japanese naval forces.

More recently, control over the reef has been exercised by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  The reef now serves as a sea wildlife preserve.  The only other role that Kingman Reef seems to play now is as an occasional amateur radio operator base, presumably with permission from the responsible government agency (but possibly not, sometimes!)  And speaking of its role as a radio base, it may not serve radio operators very well in the future if they’re really looking for dry land – rising sea levels are threatening its existence as a sometimes-above sea level patch of rocks and dirt.

Just in case you're an amateur radio operator and the reef might be accessible in the near future (unlikely due to rising ocean levels) here's a map.
Just in case you’re an amateur radio operator and the reef might be accessible in the near future (unlikely due to rising ocean levels) here’s a map.

How to get there

It seems to be impossible to go to Kingman Reef in a totally legal way, since the reef and its surroundings are designated a wildlife preserve by the United States government.  If you’re a marine biologist who works for a relevant government agency or university research center, you may be able to get to travel to this far-off reef.  If you’re not, your only remaining option is taking your own boat there, probably from Australia considering its proximity to the reef.  Any unauthorized trip to Kingman would probably be semi-legal at best, but pirate radio operators have taken trips there recently, so it’s obviously not impossible to do.

There’s not much else to say about Kingman Reef unless you’re a marine biologist, and I’m not.  However, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a page with some relevant information if you’re interested in fish and coral and other sea creatures living on and around the reef.

Maybe, for example, you're a fan of whatever this thing is. (Source: James Maragos/USFWS)
Maybe, for example, you’re a fan of whatever this thing is. (Source: James Maragos/USFWS)

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