The Line Islands are a group of eleven coral atolls located 2,500 kilometers south of Hawaii in the central Pacific, straddling the equator midway between Australia and North America’s west coast. The group was a British colony from 1888 to 1979. Eight islands are part of the Republic of Kiribati, while three outlying atolls are claimed by the United States. Christmas and Malden Islands were the site of atomic bomb testing by Britain and the US during the late 1950s and early 60s.
Kiritimati has the largest land area of any coral atoll in the world with a population of around 5,000. The entire island is a wildlife sanctuary supporting large colonies of breeding seabirds. It is the closest inhabited land to the International Date Line and thus the first island to see the new year. During the 1950s and 60s Kiritimati was the site of atmospheric nuclear testing by the United Kingdom (Operation Grapple) and the United States (Operation Dominic).
Malden is an uninhabited coral atoll in the central Pacific located 450 km south of the equator. Its closest inhabited neighbor is Penrhyn Island 450 km southwest. Malden was the site of the first British atomic bomb tests in 1958. It is now part of the Republic of Kiribati and was designed as a wildlife sanctuary in 1975.
The Cook Islands are self-governing nation of fifteen islands located northeast of New Zealand between Tahiti and Samoa. The Northern Cooks group includes six low-lying coral atolls south of the equator.
Rakahanga is a coral atoll in the central Pacific with two main islands and seven motu (islets) around a rectangular lagoon. The total land area is just over 4 sq km with a population of around 140. Rakahanga is just 44 km from its neighbor island Manihiki, and 1200 km north the Cook Islands capital on Rarotonga. It was the closest inhabited island to Malden, site of the first British atomic bomb tests in the late 1950s.
Manihiki is a triangular atoll in the central Pacific with two main villages and a 4 km-wide lagoon surrounded by a coral reef with 40 small motu (islets). The island is renowned for its black pearl industry. Eyewitnesses on Manihiki say they saw a bright flash from Britain’s nuclear tests in the late 1950s.
Also known as Penrhyn Island, Tongareva is the largest atoll of Cook Islands with two main villages on a 77 km circumference coral reef. The US built an airstrip here during World War II. Tongareva is about 600 km south of Christmas Island.