Phoenix Islands, group of eight islands, 11 sq mi (28 sq km), central Pacific, N of Samoa. The chain comprises a portion of Kiribati. The two most important are Kanton (or Abariringa) and Enderbury Island. The other islands include Rawaki (formerly Phoenix), Manra (formerly Sydney), Birnie, McKean, Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner), and Orona (formerly Hull). The islands are largely uninhabited. The atolls, their reefs, and their surrounding waters form the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, 164,200 sq mi (425,300 sq km), the largest marine protected area in the world.
The Phoenix Islands were visited between 1823 and 1840 by British and American explorers, but most of them were annexed by Great Britain in the late 19th cent. After the United States took over Howland and Baker islands in 1935, Britain included (1937) the Phoenix group in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. In 1938 the United States claimed sovereignty over Kanton and Enderbury, and in 1939 Britain and the United States agreed to exercise joint control over the two islands for a period of 50 years.
Previously uninhabited, Orona, Manra, and Nikumaroro islands were colonized with people from the overcrowded Gilbert Islands between 1938 and 1940. By 1963, however, the three settlements had failed and the entire population was moved to the Solomon Islands. In 2006 the waters (73,800 sq mi/184,700 sq km) surrounding the islands were made a protected area and commercial fishing was banned; the protected area was expanded in 2008.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.