Sep 092012

One thousand miles south of Hawaii, and just six degrees north of the Equator lies an atoll that has seen such dramatic events as a global war and a mysterious double murder – yet it has never been home to a permanent human population.  It’s name is Palmyra Atoll.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Many of you have never heard of this tiny incorporated Territory of the United States.  Even fewer of you will have the chance to visit this remote refuge in the North Pacific Ocean.

What’s there to see on this minuscule atoll with no hotels, restaurants or beach clubs?  Why would anyone want to spend time there, much less endure the arduous journey?  The main reason for Palmyra’s allure is its rich and unique wildlife habitat.  In 2000, it’s main island (Cooper Island) was purchased by The Nature Conservancy, and in 2001 it was declared a National Wildlife Refuge to be administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Today, Palmyra is home to a research station administered by the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium.

Palmyra Vegetation
Photo Credit: NOAA

Swimming Hole, Palmyra
Photo Credit: Kevin Lafferty, US Geological Survey

Palmyra is home to a vast coral reef system (16,000 acres of reef), teeming with marine life and over 125 species of coral.  Divers and researchers report seeing a mind-blowing number of sharks in Palmyra’s waters – a sign of a healthy ecosystem.  The abundant shark population co-exists with manta rays, whales, dolphins, tuna, Maori wrasse, turtles and numerous species of reef fish.

Convict Tangs on Palmyra Reef
Photo Credit: Kevin Lafferty, US Geological Survey

Manta at Palmyra
Photo Credit: NOAA

What makes Palmyra mysterious?  For one, it’s a place that most will only read about.  But Palmyra enthusiasts know the real reason for the veil of mystery – the shadowy double murder of 1974, brilliantly chronicled in the book And The Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi.  This riveting book was my introduction to Palmyra, as well as the start of my obsession with this little dot in the ocean.

Other things to know about Palmyra:

  • Palmyra is part of the Line Islands archipelago.
  • It is home to over one million seabirds, second in population only to the Galapagos Islands.
  • It was a US Naval Air Station from 1939 – 1947, primarily used as a refueling station.
  • Private sailboats and powerboats may visit for a period of up to 7 days.  No more than 6 vessels may visit each month.  The atoll is a 5-7 day trip from Honolulu.
  • The atoll is home to several endangered species such as the Coconut Crab and the Green Sea Turtle,

Further Reading

The Natural Conservancy

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium

Jane’s Oceania


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