Marshall Islands

Coordinates: 9°49′N 169°17′E / 9.82°N 169.29°E / 9.82; 169.29
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Republic of the Marshall Islands
Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ (Marshallese)
Motto: "Jepilpilin ke ejukaan"
"Accomplishment through joint effort"
Anthem: "Forever Marshall Islands"
Location of the Marshall Islands
Capital
and largest city
Delap-Uliga-Djarrit on Majuro[1]
7°7′N 171°4′E / 7.117°N 171.067°E / 7.117; 171.067
Official languages
Ethnic groups
(2006[2])
  • 92.1% Marshallese
  • 5.9% Mixed Marshallese
  • 2% Others
Religion
(2020)
Demonym(s)Marshallese
GovernmentParliamentary republic with an executive presidency
• President
David Kabua
• Speaker
Kenneth Kedi[4]
LegislatureNitijela
Independence 
from the United States
• Self-government
May 1, 1979
October 21, 1986
Area
• Total
181.43 km2 (70.05 sq mi) (189th)
• Water (%)
n/a (negligible)
Population
• 2021 census
42,418[5]
• Density
233/km2 (603.5/sq mi) (47th)
GDP (PPP)2019 estimate
• Total
$215 million
• Per capita
$3,789[6]
GDP (nominal)2019 estimate
• Total
$220 million
• Per capita
$3,866[6]
HDI (2021)Decrease 0.639[7]
medium · 131st
CurrencyUnited States dollar (USD)
Time zoneUTC+12 (MHT)
• Summer (DST)
not observed
Date formatMM/DD/YYYY
Driving sideright
Calling code+692
ISO 3166 codeMH
Internet TLD.mh
  1. 2005 estimate.

The Marshall Islands (Marshallese: Ṃajeḷ),[8] officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Marshallese: Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ),[note 1] is an island country near Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean, slightly west of the International Date Line and just north of the equator. Geographically, the country is part of the larger island group of Micronesia.

As of 2021, the nation's population of 42,418 people[5] is spread out over five islands and 29 coral atolls,[2] comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. The capital and largest city of the country is Majuro. It has the largest portion of its territory composed of water of any sovereign state, at 97.87%. The islands share maritime boundaries with Wake Island to the north,[note 2] Kiribati to the southeast, Nauru to the south, and the Federated States of Micronesia to the west. About 54.6% of Marshall Islanders, or 23,156 people, lived on Majuro at the 2021 Census, and 77.7% lived in an urban setting.[5] The UN also indicates a population density of 760 inhabitants per square mile (295/km2)[9]

Austronesian settlers reached the Marshall Islands as early as the 2nd millennium BC and introduced Southeast Asian crops, including coconuts, giant swamp taro, and breadfruit, as well as domesticated chickens which made the islands permanently habitable. They developed a complex technique for interisland piloting by reading disruptions in ocean swells caused by low-lying coral atolls. In 1526, Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar may have been the first European to sight the islands, and Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón made landfall on an uninhabited island two years later. Several other Spanish expeditions sailed through the archipelago, but by the late 16th century, Spanish galleons sailed a Pacific route farther north. When the British captains John Marshall and Thomas Gilbert landed on Mili Atoll in 1788, they may have been the first Europeans in the archipelago in over 200 years. Later maps and charts named the islands after Captain Marshall.

American Protestant missionaries and western business interests began arriving in the Marshall Islands in the 1850s. German copra traders dominated the economy in the 1870s and 1880s. The German Empire secured "most favored nation" status in 1878 and annexed the Marshalls as a protectorate in 1885. The Empire of Japan occupied the islands in autumn 1914 at the beginning of World War I. After the war, Japan administered the Marshalls and other former German Pacific colonies north of the equator as the South Seas Mandate. During World War II, the United States took control of the islands in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign in 1944. Nuclear testing began on Bikini Atoll in 1946 and concluded in 1958.

The U.S. government formed the Congress of Micronesia in 1965, a plan for increased self-governance of Pacific islands. The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in May 1979 provided independence to the Marshall Islands, whose constitution and president (Amata Kabua) were formally recognized by the U.S. Full sovereignty or self-government was achieved in a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Marshall Islands has been a member of the Pacific Community (SPC) since 1983 and a United Nations member state since 1991.[10] Politically, the Marshall Islands is a parliamentary republic with an executive presidency in free association with the United States, with the U.S. providing defense, subsidies, and access to U.S.-based agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the United States Postal Service. With few natural resources, the islands' wealth is based on a service economy, as well as fishing and agriculture; aid from the United States represents a large percentage of the islands' gross domestic product, but most financial aid from the Compact of Free Association expires in 2023.[11] As of June 2022, negotiations regarding an extension of the aid period were ongoing.[12] The country uses the United States dollar as its currency. In 2018, it also announced plans for a new cryptocurrency to be used as legal tender.[13][14]

The majority of the citizens of the Republic of Marshall Islands are of Marshallese descent, though there are small numbers of immigrants from the United States, China, Philippines, and other Pacific islands. The two official languages are Marshallese, which is one of the Oceanic languages, and English. Almost the entire population of the islands practices some religion: three-quarters of the country follows either the United Church of Christ – Congregational in the Marshall Islands (UCCCMI) or the Assemblies of God.[15]

History[edit]

Prehistory[edit]

Marshall Islanders sailing, with sails brailed (reefed), c. 1899–1900

Linguistic and anthropological studies have suggested that the first Austronesian settlers of the Marshall Islands arrived from the Solomon Islands.[16] Radiocarbon dating suggests that Bikini Atoll may have been inhabited as early as 1200 BCE,[17] though samples may not have been collected from secure stratigraphic contexts and older driftwood samples may have affected results.[18] Archaeological digs on other atolls have found evidence of human habitation dating around the 1st century CE at the village of Laura on Majuro and on Kwajalein Atoll.[19]

The Austronesian settlers introduced Southeast Asian crops, including coconuts, giant swamp taro, and breadfruit, as well as domesticated chickens throughout the Marshall Islands. They possibly seeded the islands by leaving coconuts at seasonal fishing camps before permanently settling years later.[20] The southern islands receive heavier rainfall than the north, so communities in the wet south subsisted on prevalent taro and breadfruit, while northerners were more likely to subsist on pandanus and coconuts. Southern atolls probably supported larger, more dense populations.[21]

A Marshallese stick chart. Most were made from a grid of coconut frond midribs with small shells representing the relative location of islands.[22]

The Marshallese sailed between islands on walaps made from breadfruit-tree wood and coconut-fiber rope.[23] They navigated by using the stars for orientation and initial course setting, but also developed a piloting technique of interpreting disruptions in ocean swells to determine the location of low coral atolls below the horizon.[24] They noticed that swells refracted around the undersea slope of atolls. When refracted swells from different directions met, they created noticeable disruption patterns, which Marshallese pilots could read to determine the direction of an island.[25] When interviewed by anthropologists, some Marshallese sailors noted that they piloted their canoes by both sight and feeling changes in the motion of the boat.[22] Sailors also invented stick charts to map the swell patterns, but unlike western navigational charts, the Marshallese stick charts were tools for teaching students and for consultation before embarking on a voyage; navigators did not take charts with them when they set sail.[26]

When Russian explorer Otto von Kotzebue visited the Marshalls in 1817, the islanders still showed few signs of western influence. He observed that the Marshallese lived in thatched-roof huts, but their villages did not include the large-ornate meetinghouses found in other parts of Micronesia. They did not have furniture, except for woven mats, which they used for both floor coverings and clothing. The Marshallese had pierced ears and tattoos. He also noted that Marshallese iroij held considerable authority and rights to all property, though he had a more favorable view of the condition of Marshallese commoners than of Polynesian commoners.[27] The Marshalls' two island groups, the Ratak and Ralik chains were each ruled by a paramount chief, or iroijlaplap, who held authority over the individual island iroij.[28]

European exploration[edit]

Manila Galleon in the Marianas and Carolines, c. 1590 Boxer Codex

On August 21, 1526, Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar may have been first European to sight the Marshall Islands. While commanding the Santa Maria de la Victoria, he sighted an atoll with a green lagoon, which may have been Taongi. The crew could not land, because of strong currents and water too deep for the ship's anchor, so the ship sailed for Guam two days later.[29][30] On January 2, 1528, the expedition of Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón landed on an uninhabited island, possibly in Ailinginae Atoll, where they resupplied and stayed for six days. Natives from a neighboring island briefly met the Spanish before fleeing.[31] Later Spanish explorers of the Marshalls included Ruy López de Villalobos, Miguel López de Legazpi, Alonso de Arellano, and Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, though coordinates and geographic descriptions in 16th century Spanish logs are sometimes imprecise, leaving uncertainty about the specific islands they sighted and visited.[32][33] On July 6, 1565, the Spanish ship San Jeronimo nearly wrecked at Ujelang Atoll after the ship's pilot Lope Martín led a mutiny.[34] While the mutineers were resupplying at Ujelang, several crew members took back control of the ship and marooned Martín and twenty-six other mutineers in the Marshalls.[35] By the late 16th century, Spanish galleons sailing between the Americas and the Philippines kept to a sea lane thirteen degrees north and provisioned at Guam, avoiding the Marshalls, which Spanish sailors saw a hazardous waters and unprofitable lands.[36][37]

The British sea captains John Marshall and Thomas Gilbert visited the islands in 1788.[38] Their vessels had been part of the First Fleet taking convicts from England to Botany Bay in New South Wales, and were en route to Guangzhou when they passed through the Gilbert Islands and Marshall Islands.[39] On June 25, 1788, the British ships had peaceful interactions and traded with islanders at Mili Atoll;[40] their meeting may have been the first contact between Europeans and Marshallese since the Mendaña expedition of 1568.[41] Subsequent navigational charts and maps named the islands for John Marshall.[40]

From the 1820s through the 1850s, the Marshall Islanders became increasingly hostile to western vessels, possibly because of violent punishments that sea captains exacted for theft as well as the abduction of Marshallese people for sale into slavery on Pacific plantations.[42] One of the earliest violent encounters occurred in February 1824, when the inhabitants of Mili Atoll massacred marooned sailors from the American whaler Globe.[43] Similar encounters occurred as late as 1851 and 1852, when three separate Marshallese attacks on ships occurred at Ebon, Jaluit, and Namdrik Atolls.[42]

Colonial period[edit]

Offices of the Pacific Navigation Co. at Jaluit Atoll in the late 1880s

In 1857, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent two families to establish a mission church and school at Ebon. By 1875, the missionaries had established churches on five atolls and had baptized more than 200 islanders,[44] and one traveler noted that most women on Ebon wore western clothes and many men wore trousers by the mid-1870s.[45]

In 1859, Adolph Capelle and another merchant arrived at Ebon and set up a trading post on for the German company Hoffschlaeger & Stapenhorst.[46] When the firm went bankrupt in 1863, Capelle partnered with Portuguese ex-whaler Anton Jose DeBrum to establish a copra trading firm: Capelle & Co.[47] In 1873, the company moved its headquarters to Jaluit, the home of Kabua, a powerful iroij and disputed successor for the paramount chieftainship of the southern Ralik Chain.[48] In the 1870s, various other companies from Germany, Hawaii, New Zealand, and the United States engaged in the copra trade in the Marshall Islands.[49] By 1885, the German firms Hernsheim & Co. and Deutsche Handels- und Plantagen-Gesellschaft Der Südee Inseln zu Hamburg controlled two-thirds of the trade.[50]

Contact between the Marshallese and westerners led to sometimes lethal outbreaks of western diseases, including influenza, measles, syphilis, and typhoid fever.[51] Increased access to alcohol led to social problems in some Marshallese communities,[52] and on several atolls conflicts erupted between rival iroij with access to firearms.[53]

German protectorate[edit]

Office of the German Imperial Governor at Jaluit Atoll in 1886

In 1875, the British and German governments conducted a series of secret negotiations to divide the Western Pacific in spheres of influence. The German sphere included the Marshall Islands.[54] On November 26, 1878, the German warship SMS Ariadne anchored at Jaluit to begin treaty negotiations with the chiefs to grant the German Empire "most favored nation" status in the Ralik Chain. During the second day of negotiations, the Captain Bartholomäus von Werner ordered his men to give military demonstrations which he later said was intended to "show the islanders, who have not seen anything like it before, the power of the Europeans."[55] On November 29, Werner signed a treaty with Kabua and several other Ralik Chain iroij which secured a German fuelling station at Jaluit and free use of the atoll's harbor.[56][57]

On August 29, 1885, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck authorized the annexation of the Marshall Islands as a protectorate,[58] following repeated petitions by German business interests.[59] The German gunboat SMS Nautilus docked at Jaluit on October 13 to take control.[60] On October 15, iroij Kabua, Loiak, Nelu, Lagajime, and Launa signed a protection treaty in German and Marshallese at the German consulate. While the Marshallese text made no distinction of rank between the five chiefs, the German text recognized Kabua as the King of the Marshall Islands, despite an ongoing dispute between Kabua and Loiak over the paramount chieftainship.[61] A company of German marines hoisted the flag of the German Empire over Jaluit, and performed similar ceremonies at seven other atolls in the Marshalls,[60] though several pro-American iroij refused to recognize the German protectorate until threatened with German naval force in mid-1886.[62] Nauru was incorporated into the German Protectorate of the Marshall Islands in 1888, following the Anglo-German Declarations of April 1886.[63]

The German commercial interests formed the joint-stock Jaluit Company, which was responsible for financing the colony's administration. In addition to controlling two-thirds of the Marshallese copra trade, the company had the authority to collect commercial license fees and an annual poll tax.[64] The company also had the right to be consulted on all new laws and ordinances and nominated all colonial administrative staff.[65] The company's licensing fees and legal advantages pushed out American and British competition, creating a monopoly in the German Pacific colonies.[66] The British government protested the regulations benefiting the Jaluit Company as a violation of the Anglo-German Declarations' free-trade provision.[67] On March 31, 1906, the German government assumed direct control and reorganized the Marshall Islands and Nauru as part of the protectorate of German New Guinea.[68]

Japanese mandate[edit]

South Seas Government branch office, Jaluit, c. 1932

The Imperial Japanese Navy invaded at Enewetak on September 29, 1914, and Jaluit on September 30 at the beginning of World War I. An occupation force was stationed on Jaluit on October 3.[69] At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Germany's Pacific colonies north of the equator became the Japanese South Seas Mandate under the system of League of Nations mandates.[70][71] Germany ceded the Marshall Islands to Japan with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.[72]

The Japanese navy administered the islands from late 1914 through 1921. The civilian South Seas Government (南洋廳, Nan'yō-chō) set up its headquarters in Palau in April 1922 and administered the Marshalls until World War II.[73] Japanese surveys determined that the Marshalls' value was primarily strategic, because they could enable future southward expansion.[74][75] The Marshalls also continued to be a major producer of copra during the Japanese period, with the South Seas Trading Company (南洋貿易会社, Nan'yō Bōeki Kaisha) taking over the Jaluit Company's operations and building upon the German colonial infrastructure.[76] Other parts of the South Seas Mandate experienced heavy Japanese settlement, shifting the population to majority Japanese in the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau, but Japanese settlers remained a minority under 1,000 people in the Marshall Islands throughout the Japanese period, because the islands were distant from Japan and had the most limited economic potential in Micronesia.[77][78]

Battle of Kwajalein in 1944

On March 27, 1933, Japan declared its intentions to withdraw from the League of Nations, officially withdrawing in 1935 but continuing to control the territory of the South Seas Mandate.[79] Japanese military planners initially discounted the Marshalls as too distant and indefensible for extensive fortification, but as Japan developed long-range bombers, the islands became useful as a forward base to attack Australia, British colonies, and the United States. In 1939 and 1940, the navy built military airfields on Kwajalein, Maloelap, and Wotje Atolls as well as seaplane facilities at Jaluit.[80]

After the outbreak of the Pacific War, the United States Pacific Fleet carried out the Marshalls–Gilberts raids, which struck Jaluit, Kwajalein, Maloelap, and Wotje on February 1, 1942. They were the first American air raids on Japanese territory.[81] The United States invaded the Marshall Islands on January 31, 1944, during the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign. The Americans simultaneously invaded Majuro and Kwajalein.[82] By autumn 1944, the Americans controlled all of the Marshall Islands, except for Jaluit, Maloelap, Mili, and Wotje.[83] As the American campaign advanced through Micronesia and into the Ryukyu Islands, the four Japanese-held atolls were cut off from supplies and subject to American bombardment. The garrisons began running out of provisions in late 1944, leading to high casualties from starvation and disease.[84]

U.S. Trust Territory[edit]

Bikini Islanders being forcibly relocated from Bikini Atoll in March 1946 before the U.S. Operation Crossroads atomic bomb testing commenced
Mushroom cloud from the largest atmospheric nuclear test the United States ever conducted, Castle Bravo

In 1947, the United States entered into an agreement with the UN Security Council to administer much of Micronesia, including the Marshall Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

From 1946 to 1958, it served as the Pacific Proving Grounds for the United States and was the site of 67 nuclear tests on various atolls.[85]

Operation Crossroads atomic bomb testing began in 1946 on Bikini Atoll after some of the residents were forcibly evacuated.

The world's first hydrogen bomb, codenamed "Mike", was tested at the Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands on November 1 (local date) in 1952, which produced significant fallout in the region.[86]

Over the years just one of over 60 islands was cleaned by the U.S. government, and the inhabitants are still waiting for the 2 billion dollars in compensation assessed by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal. Many of the islanders and their descendants still live in exile, as the islands remain contaminated with high levels of radiation.[87]

A significant radar installation was constructed on Kwajalein atoll.[88]

Independence[edit]

On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the evolving political status of the Marshall Islands, the United States recognized the constitution of the Marshall Islands and the establishment of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The constitution incorporates both American and British constitutional concepts.

There have been a number of local and national elections since the Republic of the Marshall Islands was founded. The United Democratic Party, running on a reform platform, won the 1999 parliamentary election, taking control of the presidency and cabinet.

The islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1986. Trusteeship was ended under United Nations Security Council Resolution 683 of December 22, 1990. Until 1999 the islanders received US$180M for continued American use of Kwajalein atoll, US$250M in compensation for nuclear testing, and US$600M in other payments under the compact.

Despite the constitution, the government was largely controlled by Iroij. It was not until 1999, following political corruption allegations, that the aristocratic government was overthrown, with Imata Kabua replaced by the commoner Kessai Note.

The Runit Dome was built on Runit Island to deposit U.S.-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium. There are ongoing concerns about deterioration of the waste site and a potential radioactive spill.[89]

In February 2018, the Marshall Islands became the first country in the world to recognize its cryptocurrency as its own legal tender for digital currency.

In January 2020, David Kabua, son of founding president Amata Kabua, was elected as the new President of the Marshall Islands. His predecessor Hilda Heine lost the position after a vote.[90]

Since the late 1980s, Marshallese have migrated to the US, with over 4,000 in Arkansas and over 7,000 in Hawaii in the 2010 US Census.[91]

Following independence, the Marshall Islands continued to play a prominent role in the testing and launches of missiles and rockets for both military and commercial space purposes. All five of the SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket flights were carried out on Omelek Island within the Kwajalein Atoll. The fourth launch of the Falcon 1 was successful, marking the first time in history a privately-developed, fully liquid-fueled launch vehicle achieved orbit. SpaceX founder Elon Musk was present in Kwajalein for select launches.[92]

Geography[edit]

Map of the Marshall Islands
Aerial view of Majuro, one of the many atolls that make up the Marshall Islands
Beach scenery at the islet of Eneko, Majuro
View of the coast of Bikini Atoll from above
View of Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands sit atop ancient submerged volcanoes rising from the ocean floor, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia,[93] north of Nauru and Kiribati, east of the Federated States of Micronesia, and south of the disputed U.S. territory of Wake Island, to which it also lays claim.[94] The atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak (sunrise) and the Ralik (sunset). The two island chains lie approximately parallel to one another, running northwest to southeast, comprising about 750,000 square miles (1,900,000 km2) of ocean but only about 70 square miles (180 km2) of land mass.[93] Each includes 15 to 18 islands and atolls.[95]

The country consists of a total of 29 atolls and five individual islands situated in about 180,000 square miles (470,000 km2) of the Pacific.[94] The largest atoll with a land area of 6 square miles (16 km2) is Kwajalein. It surrounds a 655-square-mile (1,700 km2) lagoon.[96]

Twenty-four of the atolls and islands are inhabited. The remaining atolls are uninhabited due to poor living conditions, lack of rain, or nuclear contamination. The uninhabited atolls are:

The average altitude above sea level for the entire country is 7 feet (2.1 m).[94]

Shark sanctuary[edit]

In October 2011, the government declared that an area covering nearly 2,000,000 square kilometers (772,000 sq mi) of ocean shall be reserved as a shark sanctuary. This is the world's largest shark sanctuary, extending the worldwide ocean area in which sharks are protected from 2,700,000 to 4,600,000 square kilometers (1,042,000 to 1,776,000 sq mi). In protected waters, all shark fishing is banned and all by-catch must be released. However, some have questioned the ability of the Marshall Islands to enforce this zone.[97]

Territorial claim on Wake Island[edit]

The Marshall Islands also lays claim to Wake Island based on oral legends.[98] While Wake island has been administered by the United States since 1899, the Marshallese government refers to it by the name Ānen Kio (new orthography) or Enen-kio (old orthography).[99][100] The United States does not recognize this claim.[101]

Climate[edit]

Average monthly temperatures (red) and precipitation (blue) on Majuro

The climate has a relatively dry season from December to April and a wet season from May to November. Many Pacific typhoons begin as tropical storms in the Marshall Islands region, and grow stronger as they move west toward the Mariana Islands and the Philippines.

Population has outstripped the supply of fresh water, usually from rainfall. The northern atolls get 50 inches (1,300 mm) of rainfall annually; the southern atolls about twice that. The threat of drought is commonplace throughout the island chains.[102]

Climate change[edit]

Climate change is a serious threat to the Marshall Islands, with typhoons becoming stronger and sea levels rising. The sea around the Pacific islands has risen 0.28 inches (7 mm) a year since 1993, which is more than twice the rate of the worldwide average. In Kwajalein, there is a high risk of permanent flooding; when sea level rises to 3.3 feet (1 m), 37% of buildings will be permanently flooded in that scenario. In Ebeye, the risk of sea level rise is even higher, with 50% of buildings being permanently flooded in the same scenario. With 3.3 feet (1 m) of sea level rise, parts of the Majuro atoll will be permanently flooded and other parts are having a high risk of flooding especially the eastern part of the atoll would be significantly at risk. With 6.6 feet (2 m) sea level rise all the buildings of Majuro will be permanently flooded or would be at a high risk to be flooded.[103]

The per capita CO2 emissions were 2.56t in 2020.[104] The government of Marshall Islands pledged to be net zero in 2050, with a decrease of 32% decrease of GHGs in 2025, 45% decrease in 2030 and a 58% decrease in 2035 all compared to 2010 levels.[105]

Fauna[edit]

Birds[edit]

Most birds found in the Marshall Islands, with the exception of those few introduced by man, are either sea birds or a migratory species.[106] There are about 70 species of birds, including 31 seabirds. 15 of these species actually nest locally. Sea birds include the black noddy and the white tern.[107] The only land bird is the house sparrow, introduced by humans.[108]

Marine[edit]

There are about 300 species of fish, 250 of which are reef fish.[107]

Arthropods[edit]

Demographics[edit]

Panorama of Majuro, capital and largest city of Marshall Islands

Historical population figures for the Marshall Islands are unknown. In 1862, the population of the Islands was estimated at 10,000.[95] In 1960, the population of the Islands was approximately 15,000. The 2011 Census counted 53,158 island residents. Over two-thirds of the residents of the Marshall Islands live in the capital city, Majuro, and the secondary urban center, Ebeye (located in Kwajalein Atoll). This figures excludes Marshall Islands natives who have relocated elsewhere; the Compact of Free Association allows them to freely relocate to the United States and obtain work there.[114][115] Approximately 4,300 Marshall Islands natives relocated to Springdale, Arkansas in the United States; this figure represents the largest population concentration of Marshall Islands natives outside their island home.[116]

Most residents of the Marshall Islands are Marshallese. Marshallese people are of Micronesian origin and are believed to have migrated from Asia to the Marshall Islands several thousand years ago. A minority of Marshallese have some recent Asian ancestry (mainly Japanese). About one-half of the nation's population lives in Majuro and Ebeye.[117][118][119][120]

The official languages of the Marshall Islands are English and Marshallese. Both languages are widely spoken.[121]

Religion[edit]

Christians in the Marshall Islands

In 2022, it was reported that the population is more than 98% Christian; denominations included the United Church of Christ - Congregational in the Marshall Islands (47%), the Assemblies of God (16.2%), the Roman Catholic Church (8.5%) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (7%) and Bukot nan Jesus (also known as Assembly of God Part Two) with 5.4%.[122] The remainder is made up of other Christian groups as well as Jews, Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Baha’is, and people with no religious beliefs.

Father A. Erdland,[123] a Catholic priest of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Hiltrup (German Empire, called in German Herz-Jesu-Missionare and in Latin Missionarii Sacratissimi Cordis), lived in Jaluit between 1904 and 1914. After doing considerable research on Marshallese culture and language, he published a 376-page monograph on the islands in 1914. Father H. Linckens,[124] another Sacred Heart missionary, visited the Marshall Islands in 1904 and 1911 for several weeks. In 1912 he published a small work on Catholic missionary activities and the people of the Marshall Islands. The Catholics are under the responsibility of the Apostolic Prefecture of the Marshall Islands (Praefectura Apostolica Insularum Marshallensium)[125] with headquarters at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Majuro, which was created by Pope John Paul II in 1993 through the papal bull Quo expeditius.

Health[edit]

During the Castle Bravo test of the first deployable thermonuclear bomb, a miscalculation resulted in the explosion being over twice as large as predicted. The nuclear fallout spread eastward onto the inhabited Rongelap and Rongerik Atolls. These islands were not evacuated before the explosion. Many of the Marshall Islands natives have since suffered from radiation burns and radioactive dusting, suffering the similar fates as the Japanese fishermen aboard the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, but have received little, if any, compensation from the federal government.[126]

Government[edit]

The Marshall Islands Capitol (now in disuse)
H.E. Hilda C. Heine, first woman and former president of the Marshall Islands, walking through the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery Sept. 12, 2017

The government of the Marshall Islands operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system as set forth in its 1979 Constitution.[127] Elections are held every four years in universal suffrage (for all citizens above 18), with each of the twenty-four constituencies (see below) electing one or more representatives (senators) to the lower house of RMI's unicameral legislature, the Nitijela. (Majuro, the capital atoll, elects five senators.) The President, who is head of state as well as head of government, is elected by the 33 senators of the Nitijela. Four of the five Marshallese presidents who have been elected since the Constitution was adopted in 1979 have been traditional paramount chiefs.[128]

Former President Hilda Heine with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in October 2017

In January 2016, senator Hilda Heine was elected by Parliament as the first female president of the Marshall Islands; previous president Casten Nemra lost office after serving two weeks in a vote of no confidence.[10]

Legislative power lies with the Nitijela. The upper house of Parliament, called the Council of Iroij, is an advisory body comprising twelve paramount chiefs. The executive branch consists of the President and the Presidential Cabinet, which consists of ten ministers appointed by the President with the approval of the Nitijela. The twenty-four electoral districts into which the country is divided correspond to the inhabited islands and atolls. There are currently four political parties in the Marshall Islands: Aelon̄ Kein Ad (AKA), United People's Party (UPP), Kien Eo Am (KEA) and United Democratic Party (UDP). Rule is shared by the AKA and the UDP. The following senators are in the legislative body:

Foreign affairs and defense[edit]

The USCGC Oliver Berry and the RMIS Lomor on a joint patrol[129]

The Compact of Free Association with the United States gives the U.S. sole responsibility for international defense of the Marshall Islands. It gives the islanders (the Marshallese) the right to emigrate to the United States without any visa.[130][115] However, as aliens, they can be placed in removal proceedings if convicted of certain criminal offenses.[115]

The Marshall Islands was admitted to the United Nations based on the Security Council's recommendation on August 9, 1991, in Resolution 704 and the General Assembly's approval on September 17, 1991, in Resolution 46/3.[131] In international politics within the United Nations, the Marshall Islands has often voted consistently with the United States with respect to General Assembly resolutions.[132]

On April 28, 2015, the Iranian navy seized the Marshall Island-flagged MV Maersk Tigris near the Strait of Hormuz. The ship had been chartered by Germany's Rickmers Ship Management, which stated that the ship contained no special cargo and no military weapons. The ship was reported to be under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard according to the Pentagon. Tensions escalated in the region due to the intensifying of Saudi-led coalition attacks in Yemen. The Pentagon reported that the destroyer USS Farragut and a maritime reconnaissance aircraft were dispatched upon receiving a distress call from the ship Tigris and it was also reported that all 34 crew members were detained. US defense officials have said that they would review U.S. defense obligations to the Government of the Marshall Islands in the wake of recent events and also condemned the shots fired at the bridge as "inappropriate". It was reported in May 2015 that Tehran would release the ship after it paid a penalty.[133][134]

In March 2017, at the 34th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Vanuatu made a joint statement on behalf of the Marshall Islands and some other Pacific nations raising human rights violations in the Western New Guinea, which has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963,[135] and requested that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produce a report.[136][137] Indonesia rejected allegations.[137]

Since 1991 the Republic of Marshall Islands Sea Patrol, a division of Marshall Islands Police, has operated the 160 ton patrol vessel RMIS Lomor. Lomor is one of 22 Pacific Forum patrol vessels Australia provided to smaller nations in the Pacific Forum. While some other nations' missions for their vessels include sovereignty, protection, the terms of the Compact of Free Association restrict Lomor to civilian missions, like fishery protection and search and rescue.

In 2021, the governments of Australia and Japan decided to fund two major law enforcement developments of the Marshall Islands.[138]

In February 2021, the Marshall Islands announced it would be formally withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum in a joint statement with Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia after a dispute regarding Henry Puna's election as the Forum's secretary-general.[139][140]

Culture[edit]

Marshallese fans

Although the ancient skills are now in decline, the Marshallese were once able navigators, using the stars and stick-and-shell charts.

Sports[edit]

Major sports played in the Marshall Islands include volleyball, basketball (primarily by men), baseball, soccer and a number of water sports. The Marshall Islands has been represented at the Olympics at all games since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the Marshall Islands were represented by two swimmers.[141]

Association football[edit]

The Marshall Islands have a small club league, including Kobeer as the most successful club. One tournament was held by Play Soccer Make Peace. There is a small Football Association on the island of Majuro. The sport of association football in its growth is new to the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands does not yet have a national football team presently. The Marshall Islands is the only sovereign country in the world that does not have a record of a national football match.[142]

Marshall Islands Baseball / Softball Federation[edit]

Softball and baseball are held under one sports federation in the Marshall Islands. The President is Jeimata Nokko Kabua. Both sports are growing at a fast pace with hundreds of Marshallese people behind the Marshall Islands Baseball / Softball Federation. The Marshall Islands achieved a silver medal in the Micronesian Games in 2012, as well as medals in the SPG Games.[143]

Economy[edit]

The islands have few natural resources, and their imports far exceed exports. According to the CIA, the value of exports in 2013 was approximately $53.7 million while estimated imports were $133.7 million. Agricultural products include coconuts, tomatoes, melons, taro, breadfruit, fruits, pigs and chickens. Industry is made of the production of copra and craft items, tuna processing and tourism. The GDP in 2016 was an estimated $180 million, with a real growth rate of 1.7%. The GDP per capita was $3,300.[144]

The International Monetary Fund reported in mid-2016 that the economy of the Republic had expanded by about 0.5 percent in the Fiscal Year 2015 thanks to an improved fisheries sector. A surplus of 3% of GDP was recorded "owing to record-high fishing license fees. Growth is expected to rise to about 1.5 percent and inflation to about 0.5 percent in FY2016, as the effects of the drought in earlier 2016 are offset by the resumption of infrastructure projects."[145]

In 2018, the Republic of Marshall Islands passed the Sovereign Currency Act, which made it the first country to issue their own cryptocurrency and certify it as legal tender; the currency is called the "Sovereign".[146][147]

Marshall Islands has signed a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan in 2019, this agreement has been approved in 2023 and will take effect at a future date.[148]

Shipping[edit]

The Marshall Islands plays a vital role in the international shipping industry as a flag of convenience for commercial vessels.[149] The Marshallese registry began operations in 1990, and is managed through a joint venture with International Registries, Inc., a US-based corporation that has offices in major shipping centers worldwide.[150] As of 2017, the Marshallese ship registry was the second largest in the world, after that of Panama.[151]

Unlike some flag countries, there is no requirement that a Marshallese flag vessel be owned by a Marshallese individual or corporation. Following the 2015 seizure of the MV Maersk Tigris, the United States announced that its treaty obligation to defend the Marshall Islands did not extend to foreign-owned Marshallese flag vessels at sea.[152]

As a result of ship-to-ship transfers by Marshallese flag tanker vessels, the Marshall Islands have statistically been one of the largest importers of crude oil from the United States, despite the fact that the islands have no oil refining capacity.[153]

Labour[edit]

In 2007, the Marshall Islands joined the International Labour Organization, which means its labor laws will comply with international benchmarks. This may affect business conditions in the islands.[154]

Taxation[edit]

The income tax has two brackets, with rates of 8% and 12%.[155] The corporate tax is 3% of revenue.[155]

Foreign assistance[edit]

United States government assistance is the mainstay of the economy. Under terms of the Amended Compact of Free Association, the U.S. is committed to provide US$57.7 million per year in assistance to the Marshall Islands (RMI) through 2013, and then US$62.7 million through 2023, at which time a trust fund, made up of U.S. and RMI contributions, will begin perpetual annual payouts.[156]

The United States Army maintains the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. Marshallese land owners receive rent for the base.

Agriculture[edit]

Coconut palms in the Marshall Islands

Agricultural production is concentrated on small farms.[157] The most important commercial crop is copra,[158][159] followed by coconut, breadfruit, pandanus, banana, taro and arrowroot. The livestock consists primarily of pigs and chickens.[160][145]

Industry[edit]

Small-scale industry is limited to handicrafts, fish processing, and copra.[161]

Fishing[edit]

Majuro is the world's busiest tuna transshipment port, with 704 transshipments totaling 444,393 tons in 2015.[162] Majuro is also a tuna processing center; the Pan Pacific Foods plant exports processed tuna to a number of countries, primarily the United States under the Bumble Bee brand.[163] Fishing license fees, primarily for tuna, provide noteworthy income for the government.[145]

In 1999, a private company built a tuna loining plant with more than 400 employees, mostly women. But the plant closed in 2005 after a failed attempt to convert it to produce tuna steaks, a process that requires half as many employees. Operating costs exceeded revenue and the plant closed. It was taken over by the government, which had been the guarantor of a $2 million loan to the business.[citation needed]

Energy[edit]

Coconut trees abound in the Pacific's tropical islands. Copra, the meat of the coconut, yields 1 liter of coconut oil for every 6 to 10 coconuts. As of 2007 power authorities, private companies, and entrepreneurs on the islands had been experimenting with coconut oil as alternative to diesel fuel for vehicles, power generators, and ships.[164] In 2009, a 57 kW solar power plant was installed, the largest in the Pacific at the time, including New Zealand.[165] It is estimated that 330 kW of solar and 450 kW of wind power would be required to make the College of the Marshall Islands energy self-sufficient.[166] Marshalls Energy Company (MEC), a government entity, provides the islands with electricity. In 2008, two 100-Wp solar home systems were installed on 420 homes on Ailinglaplap Atoll, sufficient for limited electricity use.[167][168]

Education[edit]

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)[169] finds that the Marshall Islands are fulfilling only 66.1% of what it should be fulfilling for the right to education based on the country's level of income.[170] HRMI breaks down the right to education by looking at the rights to both primary education and secondary education. While taking into consideration the Marshall Islands' income level, the nation is achieving 65.5% of what should be possible based on its resources (income) for primary education and 66.6% for secondary education.[170]

The Ministry of Education is the education agency of the islands. Marshall Islands Public School System operates the state schools in the Marshall Islands.

In the 1994–1995 school year the country had 103 elementary schools and 13 secondary schools. There were 27 private elementary schools and one private high school. Christian groups operated most of the private schools.[171]

Historically the Marshallese population was taught in English first with Marshallese instruction coming later, but this was reversed in the 1990s to keep the islands' cultural heritage and so children could write in Marshallese. Now English language instruction begins in grade 3. Christine McMurray and Roy Smith wrote in Diseases of Globalization: Socioeconomic Transition and Health that this could potentially weaken the children's English skills.[171]

There are two tertiary institutions operating in the Marshall Islands, the College of the Marshall Islands[172] and the University of the South Pacific.

Transportation[edit]

The Marshall Islands are served by the Marshall Islands International Airport in Majuro, the Bucholz Army Airfield in Kwajalein, and other small airports and airstrips.[173]

Airlines include United Airlines, Nauru Airlines, Air Marshall Islands, and Asia Pacific Airlines.[174]

Media and communications[edit]

The Marshall Islands have several AM and FM radio stations. AM stations are 1098 5 kW V7AB Majuro (Radio Marshalls, national coverage) and 1224 AFN Kwajalein (both public radio) as well as 1557 Micronesia Heatwave. The FM stations are 97.9 V7AD Majuro,[175] V7AA 96.3 FM Uliga[176] and 104.1 V7AA Majuro (Baptist religious). BBC World is broadcast on 98.5 FM Majuro.[177] The most recent station is Power 103.5 which started broadcasting in 2016.[178]

AFRTS stations include 99.9 AFN Kwajalein (country), 101.1 AFN (adult rock) and 102.1 AFN (hot AC).[179][180]

There is one broadcast television station, MBC-TV operated by the state.[181] Cable TV is available. On cable TV, most programs are shown two weeks later than in North America but news in real time can be viewed on CNN, CNBC and BBC.[182] American Forces Radio and Television also provides TV service to Kwajalein Atoll.[183]

The Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority (NTA) provides telephone, cable TV (MHTV), FAX, cellular and Internet services.[184][185] The Authority is a private corporation with significant ownership by the national government.[186]

Newspapers[edit]

Loan Ran Kein, a Marshallese language paper, was published from 1953 to 1954. The current national newspaper is a bilingual (Marshallese and English) weekly, The Marshall Islands Journal.[187] It has been published since 1980.[188]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Pronunciations:
    * English: Republic of the Marshall Islands /ˈmɑːrʃəl ˈləndz/
    Marshallese: Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ ([ɑɔlʲɛbʲænʲɑːorˠɤɡinʲ(i)mˠɑːzʲɛlˠ])
  2. ^ Wake Island is claimed as a territory of the Marshall Islands, but is also claimed as an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, with de facto control vested in the Office of Insular Affairs (and all military defenses managed by the United States military).

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9°49′N 169°17′E / 9.82°N 169.29°E / 9.82; 169.29