The Nature Conservancy’s preserve at Palmyra Atoll in the Central Pacific is part of the new Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
This designation, announced by President Bush on January 6, increases the amount of protected ocean wilderness surrounding Palmyra from half a million acres to 13 million acres including nearby Kingman Reef. In total, the Bush Administration’s three new Pacific marine monuments cover 195,280 square miles.
“At a time when positive news about our seas is rare, the designation of new Marine National Monuments in the Pacific is a landmark to be celebrated,” said Suzanne Case, executive director of the Conservancy’s Hawai`i chapter, which co-manages and co-owns Palmyra Atoll with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Because of its isolation from most human impacts, Palmyra Atoll is the most natural marine laboratory in the world. Scientists come from around the world to study its marine ecosystem, which is among the most biologically diverse on Earth. It is poised to be a top site for climate change research and is informing fisheries management, coral reef protection and coastal restoration globally.
“The first thing you recognize when you jump in the water at Palmyra is that you are not at the top of the food chain,” said Alan Friedlander, a fisheries ecologist with the University of Hawai`i. “There are lots of large animals there that dominate the ecosystem that you don’t see anywhere else anymore. And they dictate how the whole ecosystem functions.”
Palmyra is one of the few remaining places still dominated by sharks and harbors among the highest levels of fish biomass in the Pacific. It is home to five times as many coral species as the Florida Keys as well as globally threatened species like coconut crabs and green sea turtles.
The monument designation extends the commercial no-fishing zone from 12 miles surrounding the remote islands out to 50 nautical miles, effectively creating a huge marine refuge. It adds a significant pelagic fisheries protection zone of approximately 20,000 square miles around both atolls to the forested emergent lands and vast near shore reef already protected by the Conservancy as a private nature preserve and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservation biologists are pleased with the designation for another reason. Marine protection now extends far enough from the shores of Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef to safeguard an important marine corridor between the two landforms. “Scientists believe that this is an important migratory route for large migrating sea life such as sharks, jacks, turtles and rays,” said Case. Nature Conservancy marine conservation advisor Rod Salm agrees: “This means that pelagic species or wide-ranging oceanic species in this area now have a much larger area in which to live and reproduce.”
Palmyra Atoll is located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. Comprised of numerous islets, it is the only undeveloped, forested atoll in the U.S. tropical Pacific. In addition to rich marine biodiversity, Palmyra provides one of the few nesting areas within 450,000 square miles for more than one million nesting seabirds. This includes the world’s second largest colony of red-footed boobies and the rare red-tailed tropic bird.
“Palmyra is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth and a scientific treasure that’s just being explored,” said Case. “With this expanded protection, marine and conservation scientists will have a chance to conduct research and provide answers on how islands and coasts may be restored worldwide.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.