"With a rat-free Palmyra...the explosion of wildlife on the atoll will not be confined to sooty terns."
Hawai'i Executive Director
By Suzanne Case
Once or twice a year my work takes me to Palmyra Atoll, the central Pacific natural treasure that The Nature Conservancy purchased in 2000 and now manages as a preserve, national wildlife refuge and Marine National Monument with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
My latest trip took place in October, just three months after the Conservancy, the USFWS and Island Conservation completed a major conservation milestone, removing all invasive black rats from the atoll. As you might imagine, I was more than a little curious as to whether or not I would yet see any noticeable changes.
And, indeed, I did.
I realized this one morning at first light. I was sitting in silence gazing at the lagoon, sipping coffee, when the emerging dawn revealed a huge cloud of sooty terns—tens of thousands of them—rising into the sky, heading out to sea. As I followed their flight, I was certain their numbers were far greater than I had ever seen in the 10 years that I have been visiting Palmyra. It felt like witnessing nature unleashed.
The Palmyra restoration project was a huge undertaking. It required years of planning, and a full month on Palmyra with two helicopters and a crew of 41 people from three different organizations. But with a rat-free Palmyra —an outcome that will require two years of monitoring to confirm— the explosion of wildlife on the atoll will not be confined to sooty terns.
Palmyra was one of three ground-breaking conservation projects that the Conservancy completed this past year.
The second was construction of a pair of fences totaling almost 5 miles through the remote wilderness of Kaua‘i. These fences protect the very core of the island’s watershed —some 8,000 acres—and were designed to prevent wild pigs and goats from gaining access to a wonderland of native flora and fauna: some 300 endemic plant species, including 29 that are listed as endangered.
Finally, and most visibly, working with Pono Pacific and the community group Mālama Maunalua, we cleared 26 acres and nearly 3 million pounds of invasive algae from East Honolulu’s Maunalua Bay. This project, which received federal stimulus funds through NOAA, not only cleaned up the bay, it put people back to work and brought an entire community together.
Like Palmyra, it will be another year or two before we can fully measure the results at Maunalua. But already the bay once again has a sandy bottom and clear, clean water. Even more encouraging, native sea grasses and limu are coming back, and there are reports of stingrays, large fish and seabirds returning.
The results we achieved this past year would not have been possible without our many supporters: our board, members, volunteers, partners and donors. I would like to thank all of you, and extend a special mahalo to our outgoing Board Chair, Duncan MacNaughton, who during his four years at the helm helped guide us through a very challenging economy.
Those challenges persist, of course. But under the leadership of our new chair, Kenton Eldridge, and with your continued support, I am certain we can continue to make great conservation happen.