Wake Island

Wake Island is a small island located between Hawaii and Guam. Though people know the island as Wake Island, it is actually an atoll consisting of three smaller islands: Wake, Wilkes and Peale. Together, these islands create a 12-mile long coastline. The island is an “unincorporated territory of the United States” with restricted access. Here are 10 facts about living conditions on Wake Island.

10 Facts About Living Conditions on Wake Island

  1. Climate: Wake Island is a tropical area that receives fewer than 40 inches of rainfall annually. This contributes to why Wake Island has never had a population. Due to the lack of rainfall, “rainwater catchments and a distillation plant for seawater” provide the necessary water for the U.S. Army and military and contractors on the island. The island’s wet season runs from July to October with temperatures ranging from 74°F to 95°F.
  2. Population: In August 2006, a typhoon caused severe damage to structures on the land. The few inhabitants on the island had to evacuate to Hawaii. Wake Island has never been known to have a set population. It has been occupied by the military dating back to World War II. The island was previously used as a meeting ground between U.S. President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur. After that, it served as a refugee camp for Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon.
  3. Economy: All food and manufactured goods are imported to Wake and all economic activity is highly restricted by the United States Army and military. Activity is limited to providing for military personnel and contractors located on the island.
  4. Healthcare System: Aside from the one doctor and nurse, there are no medical facilities available on the island. Inhabitants must travel to nearby hospitals located in Honolulu, almost 3,000 miles away.
  5. Vegetation: The three islands of the atoll are covered with smooth fragments of coral. The island has tropical trees and grasses scattered throughout that provide shelter for the island’s inhabitants. Though trees are found throughout, the island does not have any trees that provide food.
  6. Inhabitants: Besides the United States Army and military, Wake Island is not home to any other humans except for few contractors. The island’s largest inhabitants are rats and hermit crabs. At one point, rats counted for two million of the island’s population. Due to the overpopulation of rats, night rat hunting has become a popular sport on Wake. A project in 2012 was supposed to completely eradicate the rats, but it wasn’t entirely successful.
  7. Environment: The nearest disposal facility, located more than two-thousand miles across the ocean, makes ridding the island of solid waste difficult. Wake Island has accumulated large amounts of waste in open dumps. Since the island only stretches 12 miles across the coastline, waste takes up a majority of the island. This has been a contributing factor to the rat population. In 2014, the Department of Defense decided to calculate the amount of solid waste on Wake Island, and it determined that several thousand tons of waste are festering on the island, some of which dated back to WWII.
  8. Rehabilitation: Before environmental rehabilitation could begin, the AFCEC/611th Civil Engineer Squadron surveyed the waste first in bird nests because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. After surveying, they found that 80 percent of the waste was wrapped in vegetation. The squadron removed the affected trees and shrubbery and collected and cleaned the waste.
  9. Waste Disposal: After they inspected, cleaned and sorted the waste, they brought barges to the island to assist in removal. Every barge used and filled was sent out to Seattle for disposal and recycling. In total, it took three barge seasons to remove a total of more than 3,000 tons of waste from Wake Island.
  10. Wake Island Now: As of now, the entire atoll has been named a National Historic Landmark because of the WWII battle that took place on the island in 1941. In order to protect the landmark and any surrounding wildlife, the United States Air Force has taken on the responsibility of preservation under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

These 10 facts about living conditions on Wake Island provide a little more insight into day-to-day life on the islands. Although this tropical island may look like paradise, it is simply a small military-run operation. Its historical significance will help to preserve the island as a Historic Landmark.

Juliette Lopez
Photo: Flickr