An island in the Marshall Islands known as Mili island is now populated by a small group of people surrounded by World War II artifacts. This small island was under Japanese Imperial control during World War II, and even though time has passed, relics of the war remain.
The artifacts are currently unprotected. The island itself is much like a “virtual museum,” and the people of this island use some of these artifacts in their daily routines. A tribe woman by the name of Anet Maun uses an old projectile to grind panadanus leaves. She then uses these leaves for weaving.
A volunteer teacher by the name of Rachel Boyce observed how economical the people of the area were. Objects can be used in various manners, such as for hanging clothes.
Following WWI, Japanese forces used Mili as a weather and radio station. During WWII, it was converted into an airfield base, with runways and hangers used to fight the United States. Archaeologist Michael Terlep told the Associated Press that there is an estimated 15,000 tons of explosives that were dropped on the 1,200-plus island chain, which is a conservative estimate.
Terlep said that United States-made explosives had a 50 percent failure rate during the war, so many explosives are potentially at Mili, or nearby islands, fully intact.
The safety of the people and the Marshall Islands is still a concern, he claims. In 1969, Peace Corps volunteers assisted the locals in the destruction of at least 2,500 explosives. Wilbur Heine, minister of internal affairs explained that some of the war items have been gathered, but there are still many unknown locations of relics still to be documented.
Boyce recalled her main concern was initially her students. She worries that some of these explosives could be hidden under sand, or nearby waters, and could detonate on a fluke occurrence. Boyce later discovered that the children from local villages were raised to avoid the dangers by taking cautionary measures, and are “too smart,” she said, to get in harm’s way. However, the World War II artifacts found on the Marshall Islands are one more factor environmentalists have to weigh.
Although, no major accidents have been recorded on Mili, chemicals from the remains of old weaponry are still a major concern. Terlep says that picric acid, a chemical found in many explosives, was used in the Japanese weapons, along with TNT in United States-built bombs. These chemicals pose a significant risk to the population and nearby ecosystems. He claims so far there has been no signs of contamination and that the people continue eating and “enjoying their food.” He believes further soil studies should be conducted to rule out contamination.
Terlep also says the ocean can be at risk. Chemicals could be getting into the fishes’ food supply, and in turn, people can be affected from eating the fish.
The World War II artifacts on Marshall Islands are relics of history with even modern-day applications for the locals, but Heine would like to see a set of islanders trained in proper disposal techniques for ridding the locals of the threats. The island is still fairly safe, and he believes the locals and visitors should thoroughly enjoy Mili’s “natural beauty” without fear of harm.
By Lindsey Alexander