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The strategic importance of Wake Island | KTVA-TV Inside the Gates

April 21, 2020

The three islands of Wake Atoll: Wake, Wilkes & Peale (Courtesy of DVIDS)

Wake Island is part of a coral atoll deep in the western Pacific Ocean, and may be the oldest and northernmost living atoll in the world.

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(From the KTVA page by Scott Gross)
Located more than 3,500 miles from Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson and more than 2,200 miles away from Honolulu, Hawaii, the island supports Missile Defense Agency test activities and serves as a trans-Pacific refueling stop for military aircraft, convenient because of its location, says natural resource program manager for the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) Dillon Paul Brown.

“Wake is very significant because of its cultural history,” Brown said. “It was one of the first areas attacked during World War II, and so it’s a national historic landmark.”

Brown is one of two natural resource managers with the 611th CES. He and Joel Helm have worked to ensure the airmen on the island are protected from seabirds.

“There are no nearby islands, so we have colonial nesting seabird species, at different times of the year at Wake will congregate in large masses,” Helm said. “Not just hundreds but thousands.”

For an island in the middle of the Pacific, the Wake atoll has a respectable birdlist:

  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife service lists 31 species
  • Avibase lists 52 species, of which twelve are rare/accidental, one is introduced, and one is endemic.

The endemic bird is the flightless Wake Island Rail, previously resident on Wake and Wilkes (but not Peale) Islands, but has not been seen since 1944 and classified extinct. Here’s a selection of articles about this small bird and the island, both victims of World War II.

  • Wikipedia – Flightless & fearless, nine inches long with a four-inch wingspan
  • Scientific American – Memorializing the Wake Island Rail: An Extinction Caused by War
  • BioOne Complete – The Extinct Wake Island Rail Gallirallus wakensis: A Comprehensive Species Account Based on Museum Specimens and Archival Records. Paper abstract, behind a subscription paywall
  • A cut-off Japanese garrison wiped out this endangered bird by Harold C. Hutchison. Brief story of the U.S. Marines and the Japanese troops. The stranded and starving Japanese ate all the rails.
  • Field Guide to Extinct Birds: Lovely artwork, brief description, a work of art with many pictured birds, rather than a traditional field guide, by Sarah Nicholls

Wake Island Rail by Sarah Nicholls


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