We visited Johnston Atoll today via small boat launches from the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette. The story of the atoll is long and varied and it has had multiple uses throughout its history. At the end of WWII Johnston Atoll was designated a site for one of the United States’ nuclear testing programs. Up until 1962, high-altitude nuclear testing was carried out at Johnston Atoll. Johnston Atoll was also a site for stockpiling chemical weapons which were incinerated in the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System which was decommissioned in 2004. Almost all of Johnston Island’s infrastructure had been removed by 2005, and all personnel left the atoll, including refuge staff.
See these external sites for more information about Johnston Atoll:
One of the most amazing sites as you approach the island is the amazing coral reefs surrounding the island. There are numerous species of coral at Johnston Atoll with the most conspicuous species being the giant table coral (Acropora cytherea). See previous bottomfish research expedition post: http://bit.ly/16lqv6R
The 5 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff were very happy to receive us and to accept our gifts of fresh produce. The USFWS staff were very hospitable and upon our arrival provided everyone with homemade leis.
The USFWS staff gave us a tour of the island and showed us some of the more interesting aspects of the atoll. They also offered us bikes to use for riding around the island. This short respite was very welcome and it felt great to step on dry land and stretch the legs. The atoll has an interesting mix of natural and manmade curiosities as you tour around. One of the first things you notice is the large colonies of birds, which is to be expected as Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge manages 14 species of breeding sea birds and 5 species of wintering shorebirds see external link: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=12515 for more details.
The yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) super-colonies had us all intrigued. These ants spray formic acid into the eyes of their prey, and then while the animal is blind overcome it with numbers. We were warned about these prior to our visit and had to take measure to ensure we did not take any hitchhikers back with us. Presently the USFWS has a group on the island eradicating this menace and hopefully this will be accomplished soon.
See external links for more information on the yellow crazy ants: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2807289.stm; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21396065)
The island is dotted with ironwood and palm trees planted by the previous inhabitants interspersed with remnant cement foundations that all are indicators of the previous incarnation of the island as a busy military base.
The crew and scientists were back aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette by 1930h and the ship began its transit back to Ford Island, Honolulu.