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Geography and Overview of Kingman Reef

Learn Information About Kingman Reef - A Small Coral Atoll in the Pacific Ocean


Kingman Reef Flag

The flag of the United States is used at Kingman Reef.

Kingman Reef Flag
Updated March 11, 2010

Kingman Reef is a partially submerged coral reef atoll located in the northern Pacific Ocean about midway between Hawaii and American Samoa. For reference, Kingman Reef is around 920 miles (1,480 km) southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii.

The reef itself at Kingman Reef creates a barrier around a lagoon which is mainly around 73 meters deep but the western portion is slightly deeper. The total area of the reef is only about 0.01 sq miles (0.03 sq km) and the highest point on the reef is a mere 3.28 feet (1 meter) above sea level. Much of the year however, even that portion of the reef is submerged.

Today, Kingman Reef is uninhabited by humans but the region is very biodiverse in terms of its marine life and it is therefore growing in worldwide importance. The following is a brief overview of Kingman Reef's history and significant biodiversity.

History and Politics of Kingman Reef

Kingman Reef was first discovered in 1798 by Edmund Fanning, an American ship captain. However it was named for Captain W.E. Kingman, who first formally described the area in 1853. Kingman Reef was then officially claimed for the United States in 1856 with the Guano Islands Act and it was formally annexed to the U.S. in 1922.

In the late 1930s, the Kingman Reef's lagoon was used as a halfway station between Hawaii and American Samoa by Pan American Airways. At this time, a supply ship was located in the lagoon which was to provide fuel for the planes as well as lodging and meals for passengers. On March 23, 1937, Captain Edwin Musick landed a plan on Kingman Reef, which opened the door for more stopover flights through the Pacific region at Kingman Reef. Shortly thereafter in January 1938 however, a plane leaving the region exploded, killing all passengers and use of Kingman Reef as a stopover location ended.

Use of Kingman Reef did not begin again until 1941 when the U.S. Navy took over control of the reef, which it maintained until 2000. In that year, the Navy transferred responsibility for Kingman Reef to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and on January 18, 2001, Kingman Reef was established as a National Wildlife Refuge.

The Kingman Reef wildlife refuge is made up of the sand spit that is above water level as well as the waters surrounding the reef out to 12 nautical miles. Most recently, in January 2009, Kingman Reef was established as a marine national monument.

Biodiversity on Kingman Reef

In terms of its marine life, Kingman Reef is incredibly biodiverse. Species such as giant clams and sea turtles are common in the area and there are around 130 species of coral located on the reef. The most notable feature about Kingman Reef's ecology though is its distribution of species and ecosystem composition. Most of Kingman Reef's food chain is based on primary predators and large carnivores. Sharks are some of the most prevalent fish in the region.

Above the water level Kingman Reef is made up mainly of small microorganisms and migrating bird species. Coconut palms are one of the only plants known to grow on Kingman Reef, but they do not last for long because of strong winds.

To learn more about Kingman Reef visit the Kingman Reef National Wildlife Refuge website and read the July 2008 National Geographic article, "An Uneasy Eden."


Central Intelligence Agency. (2009, August 26). CIA - The World Factbook –United States Pacific Islands Wildlife Refuges. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/um.html

Wikipedia. (2010, February 1). Kingman Reef - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingman_Reef

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