Marshall Islands

Republic of the Marshall Islands

President: Christopher Loeak (2012)

Total area: 70 sq mi (181 sq km), includes the atolls of Bikini, Eniwetok, and Kwajalein

Population (2010 est.): 65,859 (growth rate: 2.0%); birth rate: 29.9/1000; infant mortality rate: 24.5/1000; life expectancy: 71.4; density per sq km: 349

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Majuro, 20,500

Monetary unit: U.S. Dollar

Current government officials

Languages: Marshallese 98% (two major dialects from the Malayo-Polynesian family), English widely spoken as a second language (both official); Japanese

Ethnicity/race: Micronesian

Religions: Protestant 55%, Assembly of God 26%, Roman Catholic 8%, Bukot nan Jesus 3%, Mormon 2%, other Christian 4%, none 2% (1999)

National Holiday: Constitution Day, May 1

Literacy rate: 94% (1999)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2008 est.): $133.5 million; per capita $2,500. Real growth rate: –0.3%. Inflation: 12.9%. Unemployment: 36%. Arable land: 11%. Agriculture: coconuts, tomatoes, melons, taro, breadfruit, fruits; pigs, chickens. Labor force: 28,700 (1996 est); agriculture 21.4%, industry 20.9%, services 57.7% (1997). Industries: copra, tuna processing, tourism, craft items from seashells, wood, and pearls. Natural resources: coconut products, marine products, deep seabed minerals. Exports: $19 million (2008): copra cake, coconut oil, handicrafts, fish. Imports: $79.4 million (2008): foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels, beverages, and tobacco. Major trading partners: U.S., Japan, Australia, China, New Zealand, Singapore, Fiji, Philippines (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 4,186 (2001); mobile cellular: 489 (2001). Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 1, shortwave 0 (2002). Radios: n.a. Television broadcast stations: 2 (both are US military stations) (2002). Televisions: n.a. Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2002). Internet users: 900 (2002).

Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: n.a.; paved: 64.5 km; unpaved: n.a.; note: paved roads on major islands (Majuro, Kwajalein), otherwise stone-, coral-, or laterite-surfaced roads and tracks (2002). Ports and harbors: Majuro. Airports: 15 (2002).

International disputes: claims U.S. territory of Wake Island.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Marshall Islands

Geography | Government | History


The Marshall Islands, east of the Carolines, are divided into two chains: the western, or Ralik, group, including the atolls Jaluit, Kwajalein, Wotho, Bikini, and Eniwetok; and the eastern, or Ratak, group, including the atolls Mili, Majuro, Maloelap, Wotje, and Likiep. The islands are of coral reef types and rise only a few feet above sea level. The Marshall Islands comprise an area slightly larger than Washington, DC.


Constitutional government in free association with the U.S.


Micronesian peoples were the first inhabitants of the archipelago. The islands were explored by the Spanish in the 16th century and were named for a British captain in 1788. Germany unsuccessfully attempted to colonize the islands in 1885. Japan claimed them in 1914, but after several battles during World War II, the U.S. seized them from the Japanese. In 1947, the UN made the island group, along with the Mariana and Caroline archipelagos, a U.S. trust territory.

U.S. Nuclear Testing

U.S. nuclear testing took place between 1946 and 1958 on the islands of Bikini and Eniwetok. The people of Bikini were removed to another island, and a total of 23 U.S. atomic and hydrogen bomb tests were conducted. Despite cleanup attempts, the islands remain uninhabited today because of nuclear contamination. The U.S. paid the islands $183.7 million in damages in 1983, and in 1999, the U.S. approved a one-time $3.8-million payment to the relocated people of Bikini atoll.

Kwajalein atoll is the site of an American military base and has been used for missile defense testing since the 1960s.

Signing the Compact of Free Association and United Nations Admission

The United States and the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association in 1986, which meant the islands became self-governing but would receive U.S. military and economic aid, roughly $65 million a year. The Marshall Islands were admitted to the UN on Sept. 17, 1991.

In 2000, Kessai Note became the first commoner to become president—his predecessors had been island chiefs. He ran on an anticorruption ticket and is attempting to make his small nation more self-sufficient. In 2003, the U.S. and the Marshall Islands agreed on a new Compact of Free Association, an extension of the lease to use the Kwajalein military base in exchange for economic aid. In Jan. 2004, Parliament reelected President Note.

World's Largest Shark Sanctuary Declared

Over 772,000 square miles of ocean was declared a shark sanctuary by the government in October 2011. The area became the largest shark sanctuary in the world. Fishing for sharks is banned.

On January 3, 2012, the Nitijela, the 33-member legislature, elected Christopher Loeak president. Loeak defeated incumbent Jurelang Zedkaia by 21 to 11 votes.

See also Encyclopedia: Marshall Islands.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Marshall Islands
Office of Planning and Statistics .

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