The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs, lying in the central Pacific Ocean east of the Gilbert Islands and west of the Line Islands. They are a part of the Republic of Kiribati. During the late 1930s they became the site of the last attempted colonial expansion of the British Empire through the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme. The islands and surrounding areas are home to some 120 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish. On January 28, 2008, the government of Kiribati formally declared the entire Phoenix group and surrounding waters a protected area, making its 410,500 square kilometres (158,500 sq mi) the world’s largest marine protected area at the time.
The group is uninhabited except for a few families on Kanton. The United States unincorporated territories of Baker Island and Howland Island are often considered northerly outliers of the group, in the geographical sense. Howland and Baker are statistically grouped with the United States Minor Outlying Islands, however. The United States previously claimed all the Phoenix Islands under the Guano Islands Act. The Treaty of Tarawa released all American claims to Kiribati, excluding Baker and Howland.
At various times, the islands were considered part of the Gilbert group (once also known as “Kingsmill”). The name “Phoenix” for this group of islands seems to have been settled on in the 1840s, after an island of that name within the group. Phoenix Island was probably named after one of the many whaleships of that name plying these waters in the early 19th century.
- The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs, lying in the central Pacific Ocean east of the Gilbert Islands and west of the Line Islands.