A team of the world’s leading scientists has joined forces with The Nature Conservancy to launch a new research station on the Palmyra Atoll, a tiny National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean, where they will study climate change, disappearing coral reefs, invasive species and other global environmental threats.
Located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii and surrounded by one of the most diverse and spectacular coral reef ecosystems in the world, Palmyra offers a unique laboratory setting to develop conservation strategies that can then be used to assist threatened marine habitats around the world.
Inaugural members of the research consortium include Stanford University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, American Museum of Natural History, California Academy of Sciences, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of California at Irvine, University of Hawaii, U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The consortium will work in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the atoll as a National Wildlife Refuge.
“The Conservancy has long recognized Palmyra’s tremendous potential as a site for scientific research. Its phenomenal biodiversity and the fact that humans have had very little impact on the atoll make it an ideal laboratory,” said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Working together with these world-renowned institutions, we can discover and develop new conservation strategies for island habitats throughout the Pacific and around the world.”
Palmyra’s coral reefs support three times the number of coral species found in Hawaii and the Caribbean, and five times number of species found in the Florida Keys. The atoll also provides habitat for more than a million nesting seabirds, one of the last Pisonia forests in the U.S. Pacific, and sanctuary for the world’s largest land invertebrate, the coconut crab.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the Palmyra Atoll from the Fullard-Leo family in 2000 to protect its pristine waters and lands which are home to 125 different coral species, 29 bird species, endangered Green Sea Turtles and dozens of other marine species. The Fullard-Leo family had turned down numerous offers from developers who had at various times sought to turn the atoll into a nuclear repository and a casino.
In January of 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended further protection to Palmyra when it designated 450 acres of land and 480,647 acres of lagoons, coral reefs and submerged lands and waters as a national wildlife refuge.
“We look forward to working with the Conservancy and the consortium to further our knowledge of the Refuge’s ecosystems,” said Don Palawski, Project Leader for Pacific Remote Island National Wildlife Refuges. “The research to be conducted will guide future management of Palmyra and help us better protect its remarkable natural resources.”
Members of the new research consortium will conduct their work at a scientific station built on Palmyra by The Nature Conservancy earlier this year. The Conservancy's Hawaii program will operate the new station and oversee conservation management at the atoll in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and built at a cost of $1.5 million, the station offers accommodations for up to 20 researchers at a time. The facility includes a research lab complex, 100,000-gallon fresh water catchment, 24-hour electricity and an environmentally friendly septic system. The consortium’s purchase of a 25-foot offshore research boat and a high-volume compressor system to expand marine research capabilities was completed and delivered to the atoll this past August by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Palmyra has experienced minimal human impact beyond the construction of a U.S. Naval airbase during World War II. Its coral reefs look substantially different from all others in the equatorial Pacific.
“Research at Palmyra promises to provide insights into how physical and biological factors, as well as human activities, have shaped the diversity and function of coral reef ecosystems,” said Robert Dunbar of Stanford University, member of the consortium’s science committee. “The location of the research station at Palmyra will enable scientists to monitor climate and air-sea interaction in a critical area of the Pacific that is seldom studied. Such knowledge will enable us to better predict how the world’s coral reefs will respond to changes in climate, human use and conservation management.”
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.