The Marshall Islands, officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Marshallese is an island country located in the northern Pacific Ocean. Geographically, the country is part of the larger island group of Micronesia, with the population of around 68,000 people spread out over 34 low-lying coral atolls, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. The islands share maritime boundaries with the Federated States of Micronesia to the west, Wake Island to the north,[note] Kiribati to the south-east, and Nauru to the south. The most populous atoll is Majuro, which also acts as the capital.
Micronesian colonists gradually settled the Marshall Islands during the 2nd millennium BC, with inter-island navigation made possible using traditional stick charts. Islands in the archipelago were first explored by Europeans in the 1520s, with Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar sighting an atoll in August 1526. Other expeditions by Spanish and English ships followed, with the islands' current name stemming from British explorer John Marshall. Recognised as part of the Spanish East Indies in 1874, the islands were sold to Germany in 1884, and became part of German New Guinea in 1885. The Empire of Japan occupied the Marshall Islands in World War I, which were later joined with other former German territories in 1919 by the League of Nations to form the South Pacific Mandate. In World War II, the islands were conquered by the United States in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign. Along with other Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands were then consolidated into the United-States-governed Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Self-government was achieved in 1979, and full sovereignty in 1986, under a Compact of Free Association with the United States.