Marshall Islands country profile

  • 12 September 2015
  • From the section Asia
Map of Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands consist of two chains of coral atolls, together with more than 1,000 islets, just north of the Equator.

The atolls are coral deposits on the crater rims of submerged volcanoes.

The islands were occupied by the US for several decades after the Second World War. They are now a sovereign nation under a Compact of Free Association with the US which came into force in 1986 and was renegotiated in 2003.

The US controls the security and defence of the islands and provides millions of dollars in aid every year. The US rents the Kwajalein atoll as a base and missile test range.

The legacy of the post-war US occupation is seen particularly starkly on Bikini and Enewetak, which were both used for nuclear weapons testing between 1946 and 1958.

Climate change threatens the very existence of the islands. Many atolls lie barely a metre above sea level and are at risk being engulfed by rising waters.


Republic of the Marshall Islands

Capital: Majuro

  • Population 55,000

  • Area 181 sq km (70 sq miles)

  • Major languages Marshallese, English

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 67 years (men), 71 years (women)

  • Currency US dollar

Getty Images


President: Christopher Loeak

Image copyright Getty Images

Veteran politician Christopher Loeak was elected as president by parliament in January 2012.

Mr Loeak, a cabinet minister in previous governments and a member of parliament for 25 years, was elected by 21-11 in the MPs' vote which followed confirmation of results in the general election at the end of 2011.

He became a senator in 1985 and has served in different capacities including as minister of justice, minister of social services, minister of education, and as minister in assistance to the president under former President Litokwa Tomeing.

Mr Loeak is the Marshall Islands' sixth president. He suceeded Jurelang Zedkaia.


The government generally respects media freedom. A privately-owned weekly is published in English and Marshallese.

A government monthly contains official news but avoids politics.

State-owned and private radios offer diverse views. US forces radio and TV can be received in some areas and US TV is available via cable. BBC World Service broadcasts in Majuro on 98.5 FM.


Some key dates in the history of the Marshall Islands:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Atomic bomb tests such as this one off Bikini Atoll in 1946, rendered several islands inhabitable

Circa 2000 BC - First Micronesian navigators arrive in the Marshall Islands, naming the atolls Aelon Kein Ad - "our islands". They are skilled navigators able to make long canoe voyages among the atolls.

1521-29 - Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and Spaniard Miguel de Saavedra visit the islands.

1788 - The Marshall Islands are given their name by British Naval Captain John William Marshall who sails through the area with convicts bound for New South Wales.

1885 - Germany annexes the Marshall Islands, compensating Spain, which possessed the territory.

1914 - Japan captures the islands and builds several large military bases there.

1920 - League of Nations grants Japan a mandate to administer the territory.

1944 - US forces capture islands from the Japanese.

1946 - US begins a nuclear weapons testing programme on Bikini Atoll.

1947 - Islands become part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands created by the UN and administered by the US.

1979 - Independence.