Enewetak Atoll


Enewetak Atoll is one of nearly 30 atolls that form the island country of the Marshall Islands. Enewetak Atoll, which is also referred to as “Eniwetok Atoll,” contains 40 islands. This atoll is home to about 850 inhabitants. It is part of the Ralik Chain, which is an administrative district in the Marshall Islands. As with other atolls in the Marshall Islands, Enewetak has been subject to extensive nuclear testing by the United States government. Nuclear cleanup began in the 1970s, and it still continues today. Enewetak Atoll's islands are centered in a ring shape around a deep lagoon, which is becoming more contaminated with nuclear debris as the Runit Dome, which contains nuclear debris, deteriorates. The highest elevation on the atoll is 16 feet above sea level. Enewetak has a 50-mile circumference, and it is about 200 miles away from Bikini Atoll, which is another atoll on the Marshall Islands.

Brief History

Based on archaeological remains, experts guess that humans started living on Enewetak Atoll around 1,000 BC. The first Europeans to arrive on the islands were Spanish explorers, who documented arriving on the island's shores around 1530. Ships from across Europe arrived one after the other over the next several centuries. A German colony was finally established on the island in 1885. The Marshall Islands were brought under Japanese control in 1914. What makes Enewetak different from neighboring atolls, however, is that it was governed by Pohnpei, which is one of four states in the Federated States of Micronesia. Nevertheless, the Japanese government constructed an airbase on Enewetak Atoll's Engebi Island. The airfield and island were captured by the United States in 1944. The American government controlled the Marshall Islands until 1979, which is when the country gained independence.


Along with its past governance, Enewetak is unique from most Marshall Islands atolls because of its geography. While many atolls in the Marshall Islands were formed from coral, Enewetak is formed from an underwater sea mountain called a seamount. Seamounts have some of the most diverse marine ecosystems around the world, which naturally makes them good spots for diving. Because they attract fish, corals, and other marine mammals, seamounts are also a hotspot for commercial fishing. As ongoing nuclear cleanup continues in Enewetak, scientists hope that the atoll will be safe for human life, and in turn other animal and plant life, before 2030.