November 09, 2008
We are still at Johnston Atoll. We planned on departing today, but there is a tropical doodad between us and the Marshall Islands, so we’ve decided to sit tight for a few more days. The weather has turned blustery here on the atoll too. We are in a good spot – tucked into a dock at the old small boat harbor.
The 90’ motor vessel Searcher with its crew of environmental scientists departed yesterday for Honolulu. I don’t envy them that trip. Friends of ours on the sail vessel Shambala arrived yesterday from Kaua’i. They are a family of four and are docked next to us. They are also bound for Majuro and it’s nice to have their company. We have the atoll to ourselves.
Johnston atoll, 691 acres large, was designated a bird sanctuary in 1926 by the US Dept. of Agriculture. War clouds of the 1930’s caused the Navy to take an interest in it as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”, and it has since served a number of Defense Department masters, particularly the Defense Nuclear Agency. It was here in the early 1960’s that atmospheric nuclear weapon testing was conducted. That program ended in 1963, but the atoll was kept in a state of readiness. The Army used it to store
& decontaminate chemical weapons, such as Agent Orange, until a few years ago. When the Army pulled out, it dismantled all but one building, removed all chemical debris, removed or buried the building materials & metal, and sealed or destroyed all the bunkers. However, it remains now, as it always has been, strictly off-limits to civilians. Since we pulled in here for repairs, we were given permission by M/V Searcher’s USAF government representative to be here.
We’ve been busy exploring the atoll. Yesterday we entered the one remaining building. It is six stories tall and built to handle the forces of rockets being fired. The inside is now just an empty shell, but the decontamination showers and 24 camera mounts are still in place. We believe the rockets launched the atomic bombs that exploded on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The military has done a good job of clearing the atoll. Hardly anything is left standing and there is a big land fill that contains the debris and asbestos. The place is now under control of Fish and Game and is a bird sanctuary. Speaking of birds, there are many rookeries. Including shearwater, red-footed boobies, frigate birds, red-tailed tropicbirds, fairy terns, and Pacific golden plover. The birds let you get up close and personal.
We’ve really enjoyed our experience on this lonely place, but we’re ready to move on. Hopefully the weather will cooperate sooner rather than later.
We will post photos when we get to Majuro.