Navassa Island is an uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea, located west of Haiti, northeast of Jamaica, and south of Cuba. While officially administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as an unincorporated territory of the United States, ownership of the island is disputed between the United States and Haiti. The United States claimed ownership of the island in 1857, through the Guano Islands Act of 1856, while Haiti claims ownership through the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697.
Navassa Island has an area of roughly two square miles and is located 35 miles west of Haiti, and 103 miles south of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The island's terrain consists of limestone and exposed corals, ringed by white cliffs, but with sufficient vegetation to support goat farming. The island's ecology and topography resemble that of Moana Island, which is located in the Mona Passage, between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Navassa Island is visited by Haitian fishermen and tourists who camp on the island but is otherwise uninhabited throughout the year. There are no harbors or ports to dock large ships, but smaller vessels can anchor offshore. The main economic activities around the island are commercial trawling and subsistence fishing.
Navassa Island became a hazard for navigating the Panama Canal, which officially opened in 1914, prompting the United States Lighthouse Service to build a 162-foot lighthouse on the island in order to help prevent accidents. The tower was completed in 1917 and was operated by a keeper and two assistants. In 1996, the US Coast Guard dismantled the lighthouse and withdrew all personnel from the island. Between January 1997 and January 1998, the Director of the Office of Insular Affairs restricted access to the island and its adjacent waters to allow authorities to conduct an ecological study and recommend whether or not the island should be inhabited. In September 1999, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that Navassa Island become a wildlife refuge, and in December 1999, the US Office of Insular Affairs transferred administrative responsibilities to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Navassa Island is a haven for birds and reptiles because it is protected from human interference and damage. There are eight native species of reptiles on the island, including lizards and snakes. Feral pigs, cats, and dogs also inhabit Navassa Island. There are four species of trees on the island: shortleaf fig, pigeon plum, poisonwood, and mastic. In 2012, the endangered Elkhorn coral was found in good condition in the waters near the island, restoring hope among conservationists. Additionally, Navassa Island has been impacted by climate change, as signs of coral bleaching are now evident.
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