Tern Island: General Description go_back.gif (823 bytes)

Exerpted with permission from:
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FRENCH FRIGATE SHOALS, NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS
A. Binion Amerson, Jr. Paper Number 79, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Tern Island, the largest island in the atoll, is located near the northwest tip of the crescent at 2352'N x 16617'W. This man-made island is 3,100 feet long eastnortheast to west-southwest. Steel piling, driven to an approximate depth of 15 feet and standing 6-1/2 feet over the mean tide level, surrounds each end of the island and extends along the west-northwest side of the island, except for a 975-foot central sand beach section. When newly completed in late 1942, it was 350 feet wide; the east-northeast end is still this wide, but the west-southwest end is now only 325 feet wide due to a break in the sea-wall in 1958. Along the east-southeast side, a 2,800 foot-long natural sandy section has now added 100 to 175 feet onto the island's width; the widest point is now about 600 feet. It has an area of 56.8 acres, of which vegetation covers 15.5 acres, and buildings cover 1.0 acre.

A runway 250 feet wide extends the length of the island and is composed of packed, fine-crushed coral; an area of fine-to-medium crushed coral extends for 50 feet on either side. The newly added sand on both long sides ranges from fine- to medium-sized particles. Scattered grass, vines, and low bushes, as well as introduced trees and shrubs are to be found on both sides of the runway.

At least four buildings, several fuel and water tanks, a 129-foot antenna, a small-boat davit, and a tennis-basketball court are clumped on the western third of the east-southeast side; three other buildings are scattered along the western half of this side. Two wooden piers are located near the western end of the west-northwest side. Adjacent to these piers is a 20-foot deep, 400- by 650-foot turning basin which connects southward around the west end of the island to the 12,000-foot small vessel channel leading to the open ocean.

Tern Island was the site of a U.S. Coast Guard LORAN [a long-distance navigation system] Station whose complement was normally one officer and 18 enlisted men. A tour of duty was for one year. The station is supplied by ship several times a year and by more frequent air service. Electrical power is available from solar panels as is fresh water; the latter is rainwater obtained from a roof-catchment system.

This page was last updated on July 27, 1998 08:57 AM