Minami-Tori-shima (南鳥島, lit. "Southern Bird Island"), also known as Marcus Island, is an isolated Japanese coral atoll in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, located some 1,848 kilometres (1,148 mi) southeast of Tokyo and 1,267 km (787 mi) east of the closest Japanese island, South Iwo Jima of the Ogasawara Islands, and nearly on a straight line between mainland Tokyo and Wake Island, 1,415 km (879 mi) further to the east-southeast. The closest island to Minami-Tori-shima is East Island in the Mariana Islands, which is 1,015 km (631 mi) to the west-southwest.

Native name:
Aerial photo of Minami-Tori-shima from 1987
Coordinates24°17′12″N 153°58′50″E
Total islands1
Area1.51[1] km2 (0.58 sq mi)
Coastline6,000 m (20,000 ft)
Highest elevation9 m (30 ft)
SubprefectureOgasawara Subprefecture
Population0 (no local residents, only Japanese personnel)

It is the easternmost territory belonging to Japan, and the only Japanese territory on the Pacific Plate, past the Japan Trench. Although small (1.51 km2 (1 sq mi))[1] it is of strategic importance, as it enables Japan to claim a 428,875 square kilometres (165,589.6 sq mi) Exclusive Economic Zone in the surrounding waters. It is also the easternmost territory of Tokyo, being administratively part of Ogasawara village. There is no civilian population, except personnel of the Japan Meteorological Agency, JSDF and Japan Coast Guard.[2]


Minami-Tori-Shima is triangular in shape, and has a saucer-like profile, with a raised outer rim of between 5 and 9 metres (16 and 30 ft) above sea level. The central area of the island is 1 m (3 ft) below sea level. Minami-Tori-Shima is surrounded by fringing reefs which ranges from 50 to 300 m (164–984 ft) in width, enclosing a shallow lagoon, which is connected with the open ocean by narrow passages on the southern and northeastern sides. Outside the reef, the ocean depths quickly plunge to over 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The island has a total land area of 1.51 km2 (1 sq mi)).[1] It takes about 45 minutes to walk around the island. It has a very solitary location, because there are no other islands for over 1,000 km (621 mi) in all directions. The sea is clear in the shallow area around the island. At night, there is no surrounding light so the stars are clearly visible in the sky. For example, constellations such as Crux.[2]

Minamitorishima doesn't have soil to produce crops. The primary food on the island is papaya, mustard greens, coconuts and Saltwater fish. Ships and planes that arrive supply food as well.[2]


A type of Gecko family called Perochirus ateles inhabits the island. In Japan, these are only found in Minami-Tori-Shima and South Iwo Jima. it is thought that they spread via driftwood from Micronesia.

There are also a large number of land snails called Achatina fulica with parasites which are harmful to humans. There is various marine life in the ocean around the island. Such as sea snakes, tuna, sharks and some rare fish. Small fish are in the shallow area around the island.[2]


It is currently not allowed for civilians to enter the island for tours or sightseeing. There are no commercial boat tours or flights to the island. This is due to the observation station of the JSDF and the Japan Meteorological Agency. Sometimes reporters and specialists can get an entry permit.[2]


There are no local residents because civilians are not allowed to live there. There are only people of the Japan Meteorological Agency, Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard. They stay for a certain period on the island. Only a limited number of people are allowed to stay.[2]


The first discovery and mention of an island in this area was made by a Spanish Manila galleon captain, Andrés de Arriola in 1694.[3] It was charted in Spanish maps as Sebastián López, after the Spanish Admiral Sebastián López, victorious in the battles of La Naval de Manila in 1646 against the Dutch. Its exact location was left unrecorded until further sightings in the early 19th century.

Captain Bourn Russell (1794–1880) in the Lady Rowena departed Sydney NSW 1830 November 2 on a Pacific whaling voyage. On his return on 27 June 1832, he reported an island, not on his charts, which he named "William the Fourth's Island". The newspaper report gives a description of the size, shape, and orientation of the island and its reef, but unfortunately not only misspells the captain's name but gives the island a south latitude.[4]

The island was mentioned again in 1864 by the ship Morning Star, belonging either to the United States or the Hawaiian Kingdom and was given the name "Marcus Island". Its position was recorded by a United States survey ship in 1874 and first landed on by a Japanese national, Kiozaemon Saito in 1879. On June 30, 1886, a Japanese named Shinroku Mizutani led a group of 46 colonists from Haha-jima in the Ogasawara Islands to settle on Marcus Island. The settlement was named "Mizutani" after the leader of the expedition. The Empire of Japan officially annexed the island July 24, 1898,[5] the previous United States claim from 1889 according to the Guano Islands Act not being officially acknowledged. The island was officially named "Minami-Tori-Shima" and placed administratively under the Ogasawara Subprefecture of Tokyo.

Sovereignty over the island before World War I was apparently disputed as various sources from the time move the island from the American to Japanese domain without specific explanation. In 1902, the United States dispatched a warship from Hawaii to enforce its claims but withdrew on finding the island still inhabited by Japanese, with a Japanese warship patrolling nearby. In 1914, William D. Boyce included Marcus Island as an obviously American island in his book, The Colonies and Dependencies of the United States. In 1933, by orders of the Japanese government, the civilian inhabitants of Minami-Tori-Shima were evacuated. In 1935, the Imperial Japanese Navy established a meteorological station on the island and built an airstrip.

After the start of World War II the Japanese garrison stationed on the island consisted of the 742-man Minami-Tori-shima Guard Unit, under the command of Rear Admiral Masata Matsubara and the 2,005 man 12th Independent Mixed Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army, under the command of Colonel Yoshiichi Sakata.[6] The United States Navy bombed it repeatedly in 1942[7] and in 1943,[8] but never attempted to capture it (the island was featured in the U.S. film The Fighting Lady). Though isolated, the Japanese were able to resupply the garrison by submarine, using a channel cut through the reef on the northwest side of the island. That channel is still visible today. The island was subject to repeated U.S. air attacks during World War II and finally surrendered when the destroyer USS Bagley arrived on August 31, 1945.[9]

The Treaty of San Francisco transferred the island to American control in 1952.[10] The island was returned to Japanese control in 1968, but the Americans retained control of the airstrip and LORAN station.

In 1964, after some delays caused by storms that ravaged the island during construction, the U.S. Coast Guard opened a LORAN-C navigation station on Minami-Tori-Shima, whose mast was until 1985 one of the tallest structures in the Pacific area. Before replacing Loran A for general marine navigation, Loran C was used by submarine-launched Polaris missile systems and the existence and location of Loran C stations was classified. LORANSTA Marcus Island was billeted for 23 U.S. Coast Guard personnel. The commissioning commanding officer was U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Louis. C. Snell. A detachment of SEABEES remained on the island for several months making repairs to the island's airstrip.

The island is extremely isolated and Coast Guardsmen stationed on the island served one-year tours that were later modified to allow an R&R visit to mainland Japan at the six-month point. At the end of this isolated tour of duty crew members received an additional 30 days of compensatory leave. While under U.S. administration, on Thursdays a C-130 Hercules from the 345th Tactical Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, would resupply the island on weekly missions. Often Coast Guardsmen would judge landings by raising placards with large numbers. An unusually long four-hour ground time was scheduled to allow technicians who flew in to perform maintenance on the transmitter and to offload extra fuel from the C-130 to power the island's generator. It also allowed the Coast Guardsmen to read and answer letters while aircrews would snorkel and collect green glass fishing buoys that wash up on the shore.

The Marcus Island station was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) on September 30, 1993, and was closed on December 1, 2009.

The island is currently used for weather observation and has a radio station, but little else. Because of its isolation, it is of some interest to amateur radio hobbyists. The JMSDF garrison was supplied by C-130 from Iruma Air Base, or by C-130 from Haneda or Atsugi Air Base with flights via Iwo Jima on a weekly basis. The runway of Minami Torishima Airport is only 1,300 metres (4,300 ft) long and cannot handle larger aircraft. The island is considered as a separate country for amateur radio awards. The island is off-limits to civilians, except from the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Minami-Tori-Shima area rare earth deposits

After China restricted exports of strategic rare earth oxides (REO) in 2009 Japan started to explore its seabeds for deposits.[11] In January 2013, a deep-sea research vessel of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology obtained seven deep-sea mud core samples from the seafloor at 5,600 to 5,800 meters depth, approximately 250 kilometres (160 mi) south of the island.[12] The research team found a mud layer 2 to 4 meters beneath the seabed that is extremely concentrated in REO. Analytical results showed that the maximum REO content in the mud was up to 0.66% REO.[13][14]

On April 10, 2018 a scientific study of the seabed mud resulted in an estimate of 16 million tons of REO deposits in the studied area. The report discussed various REO supplies in terms of hundreds of years and stated that the area "has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world."[15][16]


Minami-Tori-shima has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification Aw), with warm to hot temperatures throughout the year. The wettest months are July and August, while the driest months are February and March. It has the highest average temperature in Japan of 25 degrees Celsius.[17]

Climate data for Minamitorishima (1981–2018)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 29.7
Average high °C (°F) 24.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 22.3
Average low °C (°F) 20.3
Record low °C (°F) 14.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 71.7
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.5 mm) 11.3 8.6 7.4 7.8 8.9 8.3 13.8 16.6 14.2 11.7 9.4 12.2 130.2
Average relative humidity (%) 70 69 74 79 78 76 77 79 78 77 75 74 76
Mean monthly sunshine hours 166.1 178.5 227.7 237.6 274.0 299.4 274.1 252.0 256.8 250.6 213.8 175.5 2,805.3
Source #1: Japan Meteorological Agency climate normals
Source #2: Japan meteorological Agency climate extremes

See also


  1. 国土交通省 南鳥島の概要 (Overview of Minami-Tori-Shima. Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism)
  2. "[Tokyo / Ogasawara Islands] Minamitorishima is the easternmost point in Japan. A large survey of the solitary islands of the sea!". Travelbook.co.jp. Archived from the original on 2019-08-17. Retrieved 2019-08-17.
  3. Welsch, Bernhard (2001). "The Asserted Discovery of Minami-Tori-shima in 1694". Journal of Pacific History. 36 (1): 105–115. doi:10.1080/00223340120049479.
  4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12844875, The Sydney Herald (NSW) 1832 July 16 page 2b
  5. Kuroda 1954, 87.
  6. Takizawa, Akira; Alsleben, Allan (1999–2000). "Japanese garrisons on the by-passed Pacific Islands 1944-1945". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. Archived from the original on 2016-01-06.
  7. The Raids on Wake and Marcus Islands, Early Raids in the Pacific Ocean. USN Combat Narrative series. Office of Naval Intelligence, United States Navy, 1943.
  8. Paramount Battles Involving Essex Class Carriers Archived 2008-05-15 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "Surrender at Marcus Island". 2015-03-30.
  10. Article 3 of Treaty of San Francisco: "Japan will concur in any proposal of the United States to the United Nations to place under its trusteeship system, with the United States as the sole administering authority, Nansei Shoto south of 29° north latitude (including the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands), Nanpo Shoto south of Sofu Gan (including the Bonin Islands, Rosario Island and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and Marcus Island. Pending the making of such a proposal and affirmative action thereon, the United States will have the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation, and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters."
  11. Cecilia Jamasmie (March 25, 2013). "Japan's massive rare earth discovery threatens China's supremacy". Mining.com. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  12. "Seabed offers brighter hope in rare-earth hunt". Nikkei Asian Review. Nikkei Inc. 25 November 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  13. "Discovery of rare earths around Minami-Torishima". UTokyo Research. University of Tokyo. 2 May 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  14. Zhi Li, Ling; Yang, Xiaosheng (4 September 2014). China’s rare earth ore deposits and beneficiation techniques (pdf). 1st European Rare Earth Resources Conference. Milos, Greece: European Commission for the 'Development of a sustainable exploitation scheme for Europe's Rare Earth ore deposits'. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  15. Takaya, Yutaro; Yasukawa, Kazutaka; Kawasaki, Takehiro; Fujinaga, Koichiro; Ohta, Junichiro; Usui, Yoichi; Nakamura, Kentaro; Kimura, Jun-Ichi; Chang, Qing; Hamada, Morihisa; Dodbiba, Gjergj; Nozaki, Tatsuo; Iijima, Koichi; Morisawa, Tomohiro; Kuwahara, Takuma; Ishida, Yasuyuki; Ichimura, Takao; Kitazume, Masaki; Fujita, Toyohisa; Kato, Yasuhiro (2018). "The tremendous potential of deepsea mud as a source of rare-earth elements". Scientific Reports. 8 (1): 5763. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-23948-5. PMC 5893572. PMID 29636486. The calculated ΣREY for the entire research area is more than 16 million tons of rare-earth oxides (Mt-REO) (average ΣREY=964ppm). [...] The research area was estimated to be able to supply Y, Eu, Tb, and Dy for 780, 620, 420, and 730 years, respectively, and has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world.
  16. Palin, Megan (18 April 2018). "'Game changer': Discovery on tiny island could alter global economy". news.com.au. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  17. http://www.climate-charts.com/Countries/Japan.html

Further reading

  • Bryan, William A.: A monograph of Marcus Island; in: Occasional Papers of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Vol. 2, No. 1; 1903
  • Kuroda, Nagahisa: Report on a trip to Marcus Island, with notes on the birds; in: Pacific Science, Vol. 8, No. 1; 1954
  • L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26.
  • Lévesque, Rodrigue (1997). "The Odyssey of Captain Arriola and His Discovery of Marcus Island in 1694". Journal of Pacific History. 32 (2): 229–233. doi:10.1080/00223349708572841.
  • PUB 158 JAPAN Volume 1, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Bethesda, Maryland
  • Sakagami, Shoichi F.: An ecological perspective of Marcus Island, with special reference to land animals; in: Pacific Science, Vol. 15, No. 1; 1961
  • Welsch, Bernhard (2001). "The Asserted Discovery of Marcus Island in 1694". Journal of Pacific History. 36 (1): 105–115. doi:10.1080/00223340120049479.
  • Welsch, Bernhard (2004). "Was Marcus Island Discovered by Bernardo de la Torre in 1543?". Journal of Pacific History. 39 (1): 109–122. doi:10.1080/00223340410001684886.
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