The Marshall Islands consist of a series of islands and atolls in the midst of the Micronesian region of the Pacific Ocean that have been populated for some four thousand years. Prior to the discovery of the islands by European explorers during the 1600s, the islands were inhabited by native Micronesians who traveled amongst the islands through the use of ingenious stick charts that indicated the direction of the ocean current and cycles of swells and tides. Although the native Micronesians welcomed the Spanish explorers who first investigated the Marshall Islands in 1526, the area remained relatively secluded from Western society until the British captain John Charles Marshall thoroughly explored the area during the late 18th century. While the Marshall Islands were named after the British captain who first mapped the region, the Marshall Islands were actually a Spanish territory until the islands were granted sovereignty in 1979.
During the Cold War, the Marshall Islands were the site of a large number of tests of nuclear weapons. One of the many nuclear weapons that was tested during this time frame was the infamous Castle Bravo, which was the largest nuclear weapon ever tested by the United States. This thermonuclear hydrogen bomb was detonated on March 1, 1954 at the Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands and had a yield of 15 Megatons. Although the United States military had notified the native Micronesians of the test, the resulting nuclear fallout led to a large number of infections and gave rise to a global concern over the safety of such ground level tests of nuclear tests. The 6500-foot wide Bravo Crater remains one of the most visible testaments to the longest period of nuclear testing performed by man to this day.
Due to the limited natural resources of the Marshall Islands, the two most important industries in the region are fishing and tourism. A healthy population of tuna and other fish has kept the people of the Marshall Islands well fed for centuries and is now the chief export of the region. One in ten people who live on the Marshall Islands are employed in the tourism industry at the region's many beautiful hotels and resorts. With some 1200 islands and atolls, this region offers a wide range of opportunities for exploration, and the average water temperature of 85 degrees Farenheit means gives travelers year round opportunities for swimming and diving.
Most travelers prefer to center their stays at the Marshall Islands at either Majuro or Ebeye, as these islands have the most modern facilities and hotels. Although there are no lingering safety concerns from the nuclear tests performed in this region during the 20th century, visitors are advised to stick to drinking the bottled water that can easily be found at these islands. The local cuisine is mostly centered around fresh fish, but Japanese, Chinese and American cuisine can be found at Majuro or Ebeye as well. One of the main draws to the Marshall Islands are the pristine coral reefs that can be found near the region's many atolls.
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