Photos of Navassa Island

Introduction

Background

This uninhabited island was claimed by the US in 1857 for its guano. Mining took place between 1865 and 1898. The lighthouse, built in 1917, was shut down in 1996 and administration of Navassa Island transferred from the US Coast Guard to the Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs. A 1998 scientific expedition to the island described it as a "unique preserve of Caribbean biodiversity." The following year it became a National Wildlife Refuge and annual scientific expeditions have continued.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, 30 nm west of Tiburon Peninsula of Haiti

Geographic coordinates

18 25 N, 75 02 W

Map references

Central America and the Caribbean

Area

total: 5 sq km

land: 5.4 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 248

Area - comparative

about nine times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

marine, tropical

Terrain

raised flat to undulating coral and limestone plateau; ringed by vertical white cliffs (9 to 15 m high)

Elevation

lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m

highest point: 200 m NNW of lighthouse 85 m

Natural resources

guano (mining discontinued in 1898)

Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Natural hazards

hurricanes

Geography - note

strategic location 160 km south of the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; mostly exposed rock with numerous solution holes (limestone sinkholes) but with enough grassland to support goat herds; dense stands of fig trees, scattered cactus

People and Society

Population

uninhabited; transient Haitian fishermen and others camp on the island

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Navassa Island

etymology: the flat island was named "Navaza" by some of Christopher COLUMBUS' sailors in 1504; the name derives from the Spanish term "nava" meaning "flat land, plain, or field"

Dependency status

unorganized, unincorporated territory of the US; administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior from the Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Boqueron, Puerto Rico; in September 1996, the Coast Guard ceased operations and maintenance of the Navassa Island Light, a 46-meter-tall lighthouse on the southern side of the island; Haiti has claimed the island since the 19th century

Legal system

the laws of the US apply where applicable

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (territory of the US)

Flag description

the flag of the US is used

Economy

Economic overview

Subsistence fishing and commercial trawling occur within refuge waters.

Transportation

Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the US

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

claimed by Haiti, source of subsistence fishing