Located in the Central Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles southwest of Hawai’i, Palmyra Atoll is part of the Line Islands archipelago. The atoll has one of the best remaining examples of a tropical coastal strand forest (Pisonia) found in the Pacific and one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Its 15,000 acres of reefs support five times as many coral species as the Florida Keys, and three times more than Hawaii and the Caribbean, ranking it as one of the most diverse and spectacular coral reef systems in the world.
Many nationally and internationally threatened, endangered, and depleted species thrive at Palmyra including sea turtles, pearl oysters, giant clams, reef sharks, coconut crabs, fish, whales, and dolphins. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) co-manage the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and a small research field camp on Cooper-Menge Island. There is no full-time human population on the atoll, though a small number of researchers visit annually.
Its atoll’s 25 islets are covered with lush vegetation that thrives under the equatorial region’s heavy rainfall. The atoll is home to one of the last surviving stands of Pisonia forest in the U.S. Pacific, including some trees that tower over 100 feet.
Palmyra Atoll supports large numbers of the world’s largest land invertebrate, the rare coconut crab. The coconut crab shares the islets with thousands of seabirds, including one of the largest Red-footed Booby populations in the world – second only to the Galapagos Islands. Other seabirds flock to Palmyra including Sooty Terns, Black Noddies, Brown Boobies, Masked Boobies and Great Frigatebirds. The atoll also provides essential habitat to migratory , shorebirds such as Pacific Golden Plovers, the Bristle-thighed Curlew, and Wandering Tattlers.
Palmyra Atoll Restoration Project
Non-native black rats are believed to be introduced to Palmyra during the U.S. military occupation of the Atoll in the 1940s. The introduced rats are severely degrading the ecosystem by preying on seabird eggs, chicks, and land crabs, and outcompeting native species for limited food resources. The rats also prey on native plant seeds and spread invasive plants that threaten the survival of the native Pisonia forest. These spectacular native trees are extremely important to Palmyra’s rich ecosystem, providing nesting and roosting sites for numerous seabirds, and by depositing bird guano that serves as a fertilizer source and food supply for life in the forest understory.
The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System, and Island Conservation embarked upon an ambitious project to aid in the protection and restoration of the unique species and habitats of Palmyra Atoll, by removing non-native rats in 2011 as a first step to the atoll’s restoration.
Free from the threat of non-native rats, Palmyra’s Pisonia forest and seabird species now have the opportunity to recover. Species previously eliminated from the island due to predation by non-native rats are now able to return, where they can once again flourish.