Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Restoration Project Status

by Sally Esposito on June 18, 2011

17 June 2011
By: Susan White, Incident Commander

On June 12, 2011, after 5 days of on-island training and equipment preparation, our inter-disciplinary team began bait distribution to eradicate rats from Palmyra Atoll. Yesterday, we completed an important milestone: the first round of aerial and hand broadcast bait application was finalized. Ground teams are now hand baiting palm trees overhanging water areas.

I’m proud to say that our team has worked extremely well together as we have resolved challenges with weather, equipment, and logistics. The helicopter pilots’ flying skills, experience, and calm professionalism have been essential to safe flights among flocks of birds and changing weather. All of our team members have shown tremendous expertise and effectiveness, as well as attention to detail and safety as we move forward.

Our on-island team is made up of 40 people from the nonprofit groups The Nature Conservancy and Island Conservation, and Federal agencies the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services-Wildlife Services/National Wildlife Research Center, and U.S. Geological Survey.

The removal of nonnative rats is a significant first step in the restoration of Palmyra Atoll as they are voracious predators of native plants, seabirds, landcrabs, and other native species. Palmyra contains one the largest remaining tropical strand forests in the U.S. Pacific Islands and is a critical nesting area for many species of seabirds in the Central Pacific Ocean.

Before bait distribution began, team members began to capture native geckos and shorebirds – including the bristle-thighed curlew (BTCU) and Pacific golden plover – to isolate them from potential exposure to bait. To date, 30 geckos are being cared for and 12 BTCU are also in temporary captivity, along with one Pacific golden plover. Captured shorebirds are being held in a temporary aviary to protect them and are being expertly cared for by an on-site veterinarian and a shorebird specialist. Staff members are working to ensure the health and well-being of these native animals, as well as taking good care to prevent exposure of the domestic animals that live permanently on the atoll, Dadu the dog and the 2 cats, Tigger and Duchess.

Information gathering and analysis are critical components of the project. Team members stop baiting frequently to download data that are entered and analyzed by our Geographic Information System Supervisor and on-island scientists to track and gauge progress and effectiveness. Throughout each application, the team makes strategic adjustments toward the target application rate and to maintain safety. Monitoring teams on the ground are also carefully tracking bait application. It is a very complicated, complex, and intricate dance of multiple variables.

Given the logistical and environmental challenges on the atoll, the maintenance mechanics and operation staff continue to do an excellent job to keep equipment operational and safe; as well as keeping everyone fed! We will keep you updated has the project progresses.


Our awesome helicopter operations crew. Photo: Island Conservation\R. Stansbury

Helicopter preparing to aerially bait Palmyra Atoll.
Photo: USFWS\A. Meyer

Using the sling shot to shoot bait into palm canopy.
Photo: USFWS/S. White

Our Baiting Chief prepares for a reconnaissance and calibration flight.
Photo: USFWS/S.White

Camouflaged with mud, our Shorebird Protection Chiefprepares to capture shorebirds. Photo: Island Conservation\R. Stansbury

Bristle-thighed curlews in temporary aviary.Photos: USFWS/S. White

Native geckos were collected and are being tended for their safety. Photo: USFWS/S. White

The domestic animals on Palmyra are being sequestered to prevent exposure and cared for by an on-site vet and all the staff.
Photos: USFWS/S. White

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