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Lisianski Island and Neva Shoals (26° 4' N - 173° 58' W)


Lisianski Island lies about 905 nautical miles (1,676 km) northwest of Honolulu and 115 miles (213 km) west of Laysan Island, its nearest neighbor. It is a low, flat sand and coral island, with an area of about 381 acres (1.5 km2). The island is encircled by a white sandy beach. Most of the interior is covered by native plants. Its highest point is a sand dune about 40 feet (12.19  m) above sea level on the northern side of the island,while a ridge of sand on the southern side of the island reaches to about 20 feet (61 m) elevation. Within the center of the island is a depression which might have been a lake in ancient times.

map of Lisianski Island
Bathymetric map of Lisianski Island and Neva Shoal (NOAA)
IKONOS satellite imagery of Lisianski Island and Neva Shoals (Photo: NOAA)


A beautiful coral in the NWHI
Porites lobata coral colony at Lisianski Island (Photo: James Watt)

Corals and algae

The species richness of hermatypic (reef-building) stony corals appears to be lower than those reported from the other atolls, but investigators suggest that this may just reflect inadequate survey coverage. About 24 species of stony corals have been recorded from Lisianski-Neva Shoals. Massive coral heads of Porites lobata and Porites evermanni were dominant at most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (NOWRAMP) survey sites. Coral cover was lower in deeper and more exposed waters. Encrusting pink coralline algae cover the tops of the reefs just below the surface at low tides. Shallow reef habitats closer to Lisianski Island have prominent mounds of the encrusting corals, Montipora turgescens and Montipora capitata. Fleshy algae are more abundant at shallow depths adjacent to the shoreline and overgrow corals and other hard surfaces. It has been suggested that dissolving nutrients from bird guano deposits have promoted the growth of these algae.

A Bonin petrel
A Bonin petrel in its nesting burrow in Hawai'i (Photo: E. Kridler/ USFWS)

Fishes, seals, turtles and birds

Reef fishes of the shallow nearshore waters are abundant and diverse. Researchers have found predators, such as sharks and trevalley jacks (ulua), near Lisianski's reefs to be very aggressive. Large numbers of Hawaiian monk seals, frequently visit Lisianski Island. Green turtles are also quite common on the beaches. Large numbers of seabirds nest on the island and migratory shore birds, which include the golden plover (kolea), wandering tattler (ulili), and bristle-thighed curlew (kioea) are frequent visitors. The island also has the largest breeding colony of Bonin petrels in Hawai'i. Three-fourths of all breeding pairs in the entire state breed here. In some years more than a million sooty terns visit Lisianski.

Terrestrial vegetation

In general, the land vegetation of Lisianski Island extremely intact and pristine. Only three alien species occur on Lisianski, (possibly four, if Solanum americanum is treated as alien) sand bur (Cenchrus echinatus), a few dead ironwood trees (Casuarina equisetifolia), and tree heliotrope (Tournefortia argentea). Otherwise, the vegetation is completely native, 10 species are indigenous and 3 species are endemic.

Starr, F. and K. Martz.  1999.  S.S. Midway Expedition.  Trip report prepared for U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

marine debris
The remote and deserted shores of Lisianski Island are littered with marine debris, including colorful floats from fishing nets (Photo: Jen Schorr, Ocean Futures Society)

Human impacts

A ship picking up survivors of a shipwreck introduced rodents to Lisianski island in 1844. Rabbits were introduced later, and along with the rodents, they devastated the land ecology. Feather collecting began on Lisianski Island in about 1904, resulting in the wholesale slaughter of birds. Reports of such slaughter stirred up extensive interest in bird protection. In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt initiated a joint resolution in Congress, which set aside the islands from Nihoa to Kure Atoll, with the exception of Midway, as the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation. At present, with bird poaching at an end, the rabbits exterminated, and vegetation again spreading over its surface, Lisianski Island is a populous bird sanctuary.

Link to metadata and data held by CoRIS

Click on the following URL to locate metadata and data in the CoRIS holdings of Lisianski Island and Neva Shoals When the query screen comes up, type "Lisianski" in the window and then click on "Search".