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Pufferfish and coral head, Palmyra
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Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Palmyra
Palmyra was formed by coral growth on the rim of an ancient submerged volcano. Its vast submerged reefs, which radiate seaward beyond the atoll, support five times the number of coral species found in the Florida Keys, and three times the number found in the Caribbean and Hawai'i. In all, 125 species of stony corals populate the lagoons, ocean and offshore reefs.
Palmyra's reefs look substantially different from all others in the equatorial Pacific, containing food webs dominated by an abundance of top predators, such as sharks, which have rapidly declined elsewhere. Indeed, sharks are commonplace at Palmyra. Their presence is a sign of overall reef ecosystem health and a key reason why the atoll is one of the few places in the world where they can be studied in natural numbers across their habitat range.
Palmyra's reefs support a complex web of life: not only sharks but sea turtles, manta rays, giant clams and thousands of exotic fish.
In addition, populations of bonefish occupy the shallow lagoon flats. Pods of dolphins swim outside the reefs, and visitations by endangered Hawaiian monk seals are reported.
Palmyra's waters teem with: