Researching Paradise: The Palmyra Atoll

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The Palmyra Atoll is smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Vibrant coral reefs and tropical fish fill its surrounding waters. On land, strange-looking crabs feast on fruit in lush, cathedral-like jungles.

This oceanic paradise is a living laboratory for the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, a collaboration among government, academic and private organizations like USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of California and The Nature Conservancy.

But why study this island group in the middle of nowhere?

Coconut crab

Coconut crab (Birgus latro). (Credit: Tom Suchanek. Public domain.)

The Palmyra Atoll is actually a U.S. territory, part of the U.S. Pacific Remote Island Areas that straddle the equator. More importantly, it has been designated as a National Wildlife Refuge, where habitats are recovering from their wartime past, and where researchers are tracking threats from invasive species and sea level rise.

mimic goatfish at Palmyra atoll

Mimic goatfish (Mulloidichthys mimicus). (Credit: Kevin Lafferty, USGS. Public domain.)

Research findings on the terrestrial and marine environments of Palmyra will inform the "adaptive management" plans used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy, who manage the Palmyra system. These lessons and examples will also help other island territories and nations in the Pacific in sustaining their natural resources.

Read more about USGS research on Palmyra in the new factsheet, and read about the Western Ecological Research Center's scientific contributions to this paradise in recovery.

-- Ben Young Landis

Second Image: A coconut crab (Birgus latro) prowls the island jungles. Credit: Tom Suchanek/USGS.
Third Image: Mimic goatfish (
Mulloidichthys mimicus) on the Palmyra reefs. Credit: Kevin Lafferty/USGS.
Bottom map credit: USGS

Map showing Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific

Map showing Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. (Public domain.)