Sea turtles of Palmyra Atoll

Kate Diving

Kate Holmes diving off in a living laboratory.

Kevin Frey

Since 2008, the CBC has played a critical role in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a designated Marine National Monument. The atoll is a complex of some 50 small, undeveloped islands, islets, and sand flats surrounded by more than 15,000 acres of coral reef systems and lagoons., It’s situated in the Central Pacific at the northern end of the Line Islands, about 1,052 miles south of Hawaii.

The CBC is a member of the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium (PARC), a highly collaborative partnership of research, conservation, and educational institutions that conducts innovative, interdisciplinary work on the natural systems of Palmyra Atoll and the central Pacific. Other PARC institutions include Stanford University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California Santa Barbara, University of Hawaii, Victoria University of Wellington, United States Geological Survey, and The Nature Conservancy.

Manta ray

Manta ray (Manta birostris)

Kevin Frey

Although the islands have never supported any permanent settlements, Palmyra's terrestrial and lagoonal habitats have been modified by people, especially during the Second World War when U.S. forces used the island as a Naval air facility and made substantial modifications, including dredging channels, creating new islands, joining islands, and building roads and runways. However, because of its isolation and relative lack of human disturbance, the deeper water marine resources have not been impacted to the degree of those in most other tropical island systems, and the atoll's outer reef systems maintain a diverse flora and fauna thought to be reminiscent of how reef ecosystems worldwide used to be. The complex habitats and semi-impacted inner waters support a large but barely studied sea turtle population. The islands also support one of the last surviving stands of Pisonia beach forest in the Pacific and a large community of seabirds. Palmyra therefore functions as a living laboratory and represents a rare opportunity for researchers to gain a more complete understanding of the full suite of biodiversity making up intact reef ecosystems, and how such intact, healthy systems function.

CBC scientists are evaluating the status of Palmyra's sea turtles, focusing on determining their abundance, distribution, and movements around the Atoll. The team is also assessing population genetics, ecological interactions, feeding preferences, health status, and threats to this population to inform conservation and management strategies. CBC marine researchers are conducting collaborative projects to study the dynamics and diversity of the benthic reef and lagoon communities of Palmyra, including monitoring studies in which CBC and PARC researchers observe and describe coral recruitment, growth, and mortality over time in order to provide a more complete understanding of how these processes contribute to reef dynamics and health.

Vayssierea felis

One of the smallest known species of nudibranch (sea slug), Vayssierea felis, a new record of this species for Palmyra Atoll.

Dan Brumbaugh

All of the CBC's research on Palmyra will provide critical information for better marine and island conservation planning, helping to uncover ways to conserve, manage, and restore the world's increasingly threatened tropical marine ecosystems.

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