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Republic of the Marshall Islands

Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ  (Marshallese)
Seal of the Marshall Islands
Motto: "Jepilpilin ke ejukaan"
"Accomplishment through joint effort"
Anthem: "Forever Marshall Islands"
Location of the Marshall Islands
and largest city
7°7′N 171°4′E / 7.117°N 171.067°E / 7.117; 171.067
Official languages
Ethnic groups
  • 95.6% Marshallese
  • 1.1% Filipino
  • 3.3% others
Demonym(s) Marshallese
Government Unitary parliamentary republic with an executive presidency
Hilda Heine
• Speaker
Brenson Wase
Legislature Nitijela
from the United States
• Self-government
May 1, 1979
• Compact of Free Association
October 21, 1986
• Total
181.43 km2 (70.05 sq mi) (189th)
• Water (%)
n/a (negligible)
• 2021 census
• Density
233/km2 (603.5/sq mi) (47th)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$215 million
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$220 million
• Per capita
HDI (2021) Decrease 0.639
medium · 131st
Currency United States dollar (USD)
Time zone UTC+12 (MHT)
• Summer (DST)
not observed
Date format MM/DD/YYYY
Driving side right
Calling code +692
ISO 3166 code MH
Internet TLD .mh
  1. 2005 estimate.

The Marshall Islands (Marshallese: Ṃajeḷ), officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Marshallese: Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ), is an island country west of the International Date Line and north of the equator in the Micronesia region in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean. The territory consists of 29 coral atolls and five islands, divided across two island chains: Ratak in the east and Ralik in the west. 97.87% of its territory is water, the largest proportion of water to land of any sovereign state. The country shares maritime boundaries with Wake Island to the north, Kiribati to the southeast, Nauru to the south, and the Federated States of Micronesia to the west. The capital and largest city is Majuro, home to approximately half of the country's population.


Sailing Canoe brailed on starboard tack, Jaliut Lagoon, Marshall Islands (1899-1900)
Marshall Islanders sailing, with sails brailed (reefed), c. 1899–1900
Castle Bravo Blast
Mushroom cloud from the largest atmospheric nuclear test the United States ever conducted, Castle Bravo

Austronesian settlers reached the Marshall Islands as early as the 2nd millennium BC and introduced Southeast Asian crops, including coconuts, giant swamp taro, and breadfruit, as well as domesticated chickens, which made the islands permanently habitable. Several Spanish expeditions visited the islands in the mid-16th century, but Spanish galleons usually sailed a Pacific route farther north and avoided the Marshalls. European maps and charts named the group for British captain John Marshall, who explored the region in 1788. American Protestant missionaries and Western business interests began arriving in the 1850s. German copra traders dominated the economy in the 1870s and 1880s, and the German Empire annexed the Marshalls as a protectorate in 1885.

The Empire of Japan occupied the islands in the autumn of 1914 at the beginning of World War I. After the war, the Marshalls and other former German Pacific colonies north of the equator became the Japanese South Seas Mandate. The United States occupied the islands during World War II and administered them as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands after the war. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll.

On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the evolving political status of the Marshall Islands, the United States recognized the constitution of the Marshall Islands and the establishment of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The Constitution incorporates both American and British constitutional concepts.

Following independence, the Marshall Islands continued to play a prominent role in the testing and launches of missiles and rockets for both military and commercial space purposes. All five of the SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket flights were carried out on Omelek Island within the Kwajalein Atoll. The fourth launch of the Falcon 1 was successful, marking the first time in history a privately developed, fully liquid-fueled launch vehicle achieved orbit. SpaceX founder Elon Musk was present in Kwajalein for select launches.


MH -map A
Map of the Marshall Islands
JJ7V2741 (40325750)
Aerial view of Majuro, one of the many atolls that make up the Marshall Islands
Eneko Islet 12
Beach scenery at the islet of Eneko, Majuro
Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site-115017
View of the coast of Bikini Atoll from above
Marshall Islands (10700720174)
View of Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands sit atop ancient submerged volcanoes rising from the ocean floor, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, north of Nauru and Kiribati, east of the Federated States of Micronesia, and south of the disputed U.S. territory of Wake Island, to which it also lays claim. The atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak (sunrise) and the Ralik (sunset). The two island chains lie approximately parallel to one another, running northwest to southeast, comprising about 750,000 square miles (1,900,000 km2) of the ocean but only about 70 square miles (180 km2) of land mass. Each includes 15 to 18 islands and atolls.

The country consists of a total of 29 atolls and five individual islands situated in about 180,000 square miles (470,000 km2) of the Pacific. The largest atoll with a land area of 6 square miles (16 km2) is Kwajalein. It surrounds a 655-square-mile (1,700 km2) lagoon.

Twenty-four of the atolls and islands are inhabited. The remaining atolls are uninhabited due to poor living conditions, lack of rain, or nuclear contamination. The uninhabited atolls are:

  • Ailinginae Atoll
  • Bikar (Bikaar) Atoll
  • Bikini Atoll
  • Bokak Atoll
  • Erikub Atoll
  • Jemo Island
  • Nadikdik Atoll
  • Rongerik Atoll
  • Toke Atoll
  • Ujelang Atoll

The average altitude above sea level for the entire country is 7 feet (2.1 m).

Shark sanctuary

In October 2011, the government declared that an area covering nearly 2,000,000 square kilometers (772,000 sq mi) of ocean shall be reserved as a shark sanctuary. This is the world's largest shark sanctuary, extending the worldwide ocean area in which sharks are protected from 2,700,000 to 4,600,000 square kilometers (1,042,000 to 1,776,000 sq mi). In protected waters, all shark fishing is banned and all by-catch must be released. However, some have questioned the ability of the Marshall Islands to enforce this zone.

Territorial claim on Wake Island

The Marshall Islands also lays claim to Wake Island based on oral legends. While Wake Island has been administered by the United States since 1899, the Marshallese government refers to it by the name Ānen Kio (new orthography) or Enen-kio (old orthography). The United States does not recognize this claim.


Average monthly temperatures (red) and precipitation (blue) on Majuro

The climate has a relatively dry season from December to April and a wet season from May to November. Many Pacific typhoons begin as tropical storms in the Marshall Islands region and grow stronger as they move west toward the Mariana Islands and the Philippines.

Population has outstripped the supply of fresh water, usually from rainfall. The northern atolls get 50 inches (1,300 mm) of rainfall annually; the southern atolls about twice that. The threat of drought is commonplace throughout the island chains.

Climate change

Climate change is a serious threat to the Marshall Islands, with typhoons becoming stronger and sea levels rising. The sea around the Pacific islands has risen 0.28 inches (7 mm) a year since 1993, which is more than twice the worldwide average rate. In Kwajalein, there is a high risk of permanent flooding; when sea level rises by 3.3 feet (1 m), 37% of buildings will be permanently flooded. In Ebeye, the risk from sea level rise is even higher, with 50% of buildings being permanently flooded in the same scenario. With 3.3 feet (1 m) of sea level rise, parts of the Majuro atoll will be permanently flooded and other parts will have a high risk of flooding especially the eastern part of the atoll would be significantly at risk. With 6.6 feet (2 m) sea level rise all the buildings of Majuro will be permanently flooded or will be at a high risk of being flooded.

The per capita CO2 emissions were 2.56 t in 2020. The government of Marshall Islands pledged to be net zero in 2050, with a decrease of 32% in GHGs in 2025, 45% in 2030 and 58% in 2035, all compared to 2010 levels.



Most birds found in the Marshall Islands, with the exception of those few introduced by humans, are either sea birds or migratory species. There are about 70 species of birds, including 31 seabirds. 15 of these species actually nest locally. Sea birds include the black noddy and the white tern. The only land bird is the house sparrow, introduced by humans.


There are about 300 species of fish, 250 of which are reef fish.


  • Scorpions: dwarf wood scorpion, and Common house scorpion. Pseudoscorpions are occasionally found.
  • Spiders: Two: a scytodes, Dictis striatipes; and Jaluiticola, a genus of jumping spiders endemic to the Marshall Islands. Its only species is Jaluiticola hesslei.
  • Amphipod: One – Talorchestia spinipalma.
  • Orthoptera: cockroaches, American cockroaches, short-horned grasshopper, crickets.
  • Crabs include hermit crabs, and coconut crabs.


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1920 9,800 —    
1925 9,644 −1.6%
1930 10,412 +8.0%
1935 10,446 +0.3%
1958 13,928 +33.3%
1967 18,925 +35.9%
1973 24,135 +27.5%
1980 30,873 +27.9%
1988 43,380 +40.5%
1999 50,840 +17.2%
2011 53,158 +4.6%
2021 42,418 −20.2%

Historical population figures for the Marshall Islands are unknown. In 1862, the population of the Islands was estimated at 10,000. In 1960, the population of the Islands was approximately 15,000. The 2021 census counted 42,418 residents, 23,156 of whom (approximately 54.6%) lived on Majuro. 77.7% of the population lived in an urban setting on Majuro or Ebeye, the country's secondary urban center. This figure excludes Marshall Islands natives who have relocated elsewhere; the Compact of Free Association allows them to freely relocate to the United States and obtain work there. Approximately 4,300 Marshall Islands natives relocated to Springdale, Arkansas in the United States this figure represents the largest population concentration of Marshall Islands natives outside their island home.

Most residents of the Marshall Islands are Marshallese.


Republic of the Marshall Islands Capitol Building
The Marshall Islands Capitol (now in disuse)
President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, H.E. Hilda C. Heine, Participates in a Public Wreath-Laying Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (37004671006)
H.E. Hilda C. Heine, first woman and former president of the Marshall Islands, walking through the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery Sept. 12, 2017

The government of the Marshall Islands operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system as set forth in its 1979 Constitution. Elections are held every four years in universal suffrage (for all citizens above 18), with each of the twenty-four constituencies electing one or more representatives (senators) to the lower house of RMI's unicameral legislature, the Nitijela. (Majuro, the capital atoll, elects five senators.) The President, who is head of state as well as head of government, is elected by the 33 senators of the Nitijela. Four of the five Marshallese presidents who have been elected since the Constitution was adopted in 1979 have been traditional paramount chiefs.

10.30 總統抵達馬紹爾群島共和國,由海妮(Hilda C. Heine)總統陪同沿紅地毯前進,接受兩側馬國國家警察儀隊致敬 (37980845986)
Former President Hilda Heine with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in October 2017

Legislative power lies with the Nitijela. The upper house of Parliament called the Council of Iroij, is an advisory body comprising twelve paramount chiefs. The executive branch consists of the President and the Presidential Cabinet, which consists of ten ministers appointed by the President with the approval of the Nitijela.


Marshallese Rito Fans
Marshallese fans

Although the ancient skills are now in decline, the Marshallese were once able navigators, to use the stars and stick-and-shell charts.


The islands have few natural resources, and their imports far exceed exports. Agricultural products include coconuts, tomatoes, melons, taro, breadfruit, fruits, pigs and chickens. Industry is made of the production of copra and craft items, tuna processing, and tourism. The GDP in 2016 was an estimated $180 million, with a real growth rate of 1.7%. The GDP per capita was $3,300.

Marshall Islands has signed a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan in 2019, this agreement has been approved in 2023 and will take effect at a future date.


Marshall Islands PICT0355 (4744730879)
Coconut palms in the Marshall Islands

Agricultural production is concentrated on small farms. The most important commercial crop is copra, followed by coconut, breadfruit, pandanus, banana, taro and arrowroot. The livestock consists primarily of pigs and chickens.


Small-scale industry is limited to handicrafts, fish processing, and copra.


Majuro is the world's busiest tuna transshipment port, with 704 transshipments totaling 444,393 tons in 2015. Majuro is also a tuna processing center; the Pan Pacific Foods plant exports processed tuna to a number of countries, primarily the United States under the Bumble Bee brand. Fishing license fees, primarily for tuna, provide noteworthy income for the government.

In 1999, a private company built a tuna loining plant with more than 400 employees, mostly women. But the plant closed in 2005 after a failed attempt to convert it to produce tuna steaks, a process that requires half as many employees. Operating costs exceeded revenue and the plant closed. It was taken over by the government, which had been the guarantor of a $2 million loan to the business.


Coconut trees abound in the Pacific's tropical islands. Copra, the meat of the coconut, yields 1 liter of coconut oil for every 6 to 10 coconuts. As of 2007 power authorities, private companies, and entrepreneurs on the islands had been experimenting with coconut oil as alternative to diesel fuel for vehicles, power generators, and ships. In 2009, a 57 kW solar power plant was installed, the largest in the Pacific at the time, including New Zealand. It is estimated that 330 kW of solar and 450 kW of wind power would be required to make the College of the Marshall Islands energy self-sufficient. Marshalls Energy Company (MEC), a government entity, provides the islands with electricity. In 2008, two 100-Wp solar home systems were installed on 420 homes on Ailinglaplap Atoll, sufficient for limited electricity use.


In the 1994–1995 school year the country had 103 elementary schools and 13 secondary schools. There were 27 private elementary schools and one private high school. Christian groups operated most of the private schools.

Historically the Marshallese population was taught in English first with Marshallese instruction coming later, but this was reversed in the 1990s to keep the islands' cultural heritage and so children could write in Marshallese. Now English language instruction begins in grade 3.

There are two tertiary institutions operating in the Marshall Islands, the College of the Marshall Islands and the University of the South Pacific.

Interesting facts about the Marshall Islands

  • Marshallese people are of Micronesian origin and are believed to have migrated from Asia to the Marshall Islands several thousand years ago.
  • The official languages of the Marshall Islands are English and Marshallese. Both languages are widely spoken.
  • In 2018, the Republic of Marshall Islands passed the Sovereign Currency Act, which made it the first country to issue their own cryptocurrency and certify it as legal tender; the currency is called the "Sovereign".
  • The Marshall Islands plays a vital role in the international shipping industry as a flag of convenience for commercial vessels.
  • In January 2016, Senator Hilda Heine was elected by Parliament as the first female president of the Marshall Islands.

Images for kids

See also

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