Ebeye Island

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Native name: Epjā
Ebeye Island.jpg
Location Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands
Adjacent bodies of water Northern Pacific Ocean
Area 0.36 km2 (0.14 sq mi)

Ebeye (/ˈb/ EE-by; Marshallese: Epjā, [ɛ̯ɛbʲ(ɛ)zʲææ̯];[1] locally, Ibae, [i̯i͡ɯbˠɑɑ̯ɛ̯ɛɛ̯], after the English pronunciation.[2]) and is the most populous island of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as well as the center for Marshallese culture in the Ralik Chain of the archipelago. Settled on 80 acres (360,000 m²) of land, it has a population of more than 15,000. Over 50% of the population is estimated to be under the age of 18.



When Christian missionaries first arrived in the Marshall Islands, they introduced Latin script writing and orthographized the Marshallese language. Originally, Ebeye was written Ebeje by Europeans (Epjā in modern orthography, pronounced [ɛ̯ɛbʲ(ɛ)zʲææ̯]), which (according to elders of the atoll) means "making something out of nothing." However, the colonial German administration mispronounced the J as if it were German language [j], and foreign observers recorded the resulting pronunciation as Ebeye. During the Japanese period, though, the island's pronunciation in katakana, Ebize (エビゼ?) [ebʲize], re-approximated Marshallese. After World War II, the Americans took possession of the regional mandate from Japan and mispronounced the island's name as /ˈb/ EE-by from its spelling. Because most of the modern Marshallese residents of Ebeye don't have family roots on the island, the American pronunciation has stuck, and is the usual name for Ebeye among the island's current population. This pronunciation has even been adapted to Marshallese orthography, so that there are now two synonymous Marshallese names for the island — officially and historically Epjā, and locally Ibae.

World War II[edit]

Ebeye island being shelled on 30 January 1944
Ebeye Island seaplane base in 1945

The Imperial Japanese Navy constructed a seaplane bases on Ebeye in the early 1940s. Following the Battle of Kwajalein from 31 January-3 February 1944, Ebeye was occupied by US forces. On 7 March the 107th Naval Construction Battalion was sent to Ebeye to redevelop the seaplane base. The Seabees repaired the existing 1,600 feet (490 m) by 30 feet (9.1 m) pier adding a 50 feet (15 m) by 240 feet (73 m) ell extension, and also repaired a 250 feet (76 m) Japanese H-shaped pier. The Seabees assembled a pontoon wharf and pontoon barges for transporting damaged carrier aircraft to repair units ashore. Further installations on Ebeye consisted of housing in floored tents and Quonset huts, a 150-bed dispensary, four magazines, 24,000 square feet (2,200 m2) of covered storage, and a 4,000 US barrels (480,000 l; 130,000 US gal; 100,000 imp gal) aviation-gasoline tank farm.[3]

Relocation from the Mid-Atoll Corridor[edit]

Prior to the early 1950s, a large number of present-day residents of Ebeye lived on small islands throughout Kwajalein Atoll, which is in fact the largest atoll in the world, boasting close to 99 islands surrounding a massive lagoon. However, with Kwajalein island used as a support base for the nuclear tests conducted at Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll, Marshallese residents of Kwajalein were relocated by U.S. authorities to a small, planned community constructed on Ebeye, which was largely unpopulated and had served as a Japanese seaplane base prior to the Pacific War. With the advent of the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic missile testing program of the 1960s, the U.S. military deemed it necessary for safety and security reasons to evacuate a vast sector of the atoll to create a zone in which unarmed guided missiles could be targeted from the continental United States. For this reason, whole communities of Kwajalein Atoll Marshallese residents were relocated from the "Mid-Atoll Corridor" to Ebeye and were provided with housing and the incentive of work at the base on Kwajalein test site. These promises were not entirely upheld, nor were these relocated families thoroughly compensated. Not only were they removed from their land and access to abundant marine resources, but most "Mid-Atoll" people did not have land rights to Ebeye, leaving them without much of a say in their future. Currently, these people are allowed to return to their islands during range downtime but cannot build homes or maintain their land adequately, as they are subject to removal on a nearly monthly basis by authorities.

Subsequent population growth by migration from outlying rural atolls and islands throughout the Marshalls created a major housing shortage and problems with resources throughout the following decades. Original Ebeye inhabitants with land rights were not compensated adequately for the tenants who came to live on their land, and this created enormous tensions that polarized migrants from other atolls and "landowners" or original "Kwajalein people" (Ri-Kuwajleen, [rˠɯ͡u-ɡʷuu̯ɒ͡æzʲ(æ)lʲɛːnʲ]). These tensions continue to persist today and are part of the basis for many Kwajalein Atoll landowners' disputes about the Land Use Agreement between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands Government in Majuro.


Ebeye is the most populous island of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as well as the center for Marshallese culture in the Ralik Chain of the archipelago. It comprises 80 acres (360,000 m²).

It is the fifth most densely populated island in the world.[4]


Ebeye has a population of more than 15,000.[4] In 2008, the population was 12,000.[5] Because of the size of the island (80 acres) and relative per capita income,[clarification needed] the island has been called the ghetto of the Pacific,[6][7][8][9]

Refuge from nuclear fallout[edit]

Some of the residents of Ebeye are refugees or descendants of refugees from the effects of the cataclysmic 15-megaton Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. The detonation unexpectedly rained nuclear fallout and two inches (50 mm) of radioactive snow on nearby Rongelap Atoll, which had not been evacuated as had Bikini. The 1954 American authorities then evacuated Rongelap and were returned in 1957 with extensive medical surveillance. In 1985, Greenpeace evacuated the inhabitants of Rongelap to Mejato (island in Kwajalein atoll). Ebeye was the final destination for many of them.[10]


Climate data for Kwajalein Atoll
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 29.7
Average low °C (°F) 25.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 107
Source: Weatherbase [11]


Infant mortality on Ebeye is 3.0% as of 2006.[5] There have been recurrent outbreaks of cholera, dengue fever, and tuberculosis. In 1963 there was a polio outbreak, and in 1978 a measles outbreak - these occurred despite prior vaccinations - leading to the reevaluation of 'herd immunity' in densely populated regions. In 2009, the Ebeye Community Health Center was awarded a grant as part of the United States Stimulus for the purpose of monitoring influenza (e.g. H1N1).[12]


The economy is service driven.[5]


  1. ^ Marshallese-English Dictionary - Place Name Index
  2. ^ Marshallese-English Dictionary
  3. ^ Building the Navy's Bases in World War II History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946. US Government Printing Office. 1947. p. 324. 
  4. ^ a b Top ten most crowded islands in the world | Gadling.com
  5. ^ a b c "Marshall Islands". Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  6. ^ http://www.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/13/2vine.pdf
  7. ^ http://web.gc.cuny.edu/dept/rbins/IUCSHA/fellows/dv/DV-link2.pdf
  8. ^ David Vine (2006). Empire's Footprint: Expulsion and the United States Military Base on Diego Garcia. ProQuest. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-542-85100-1. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  9. ^ David Vine (21 January 2011). Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia (New in Paper). Princeton University Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-691-14983-7. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Woodward, Colin (7 December 1999). "Generations of Fallout From Nuclear Tests". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "Weatherbase: Historical Weather for Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands". Weatherbase. 2011.  Retrieved on November 24, 2011.
  12. ^ H8BCS11973, DHHS. "Grants - AWARD SUMMARY". Recovery.gov. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 8°46′49″N 167°44′14″E / 8.78028°N 167.73722°E / 8.78028; 167.73722