The Palmyra Atoll and Sea Turtles in the Pacific

Sea turtles are considered globally endangered due to a number of threats, including entanglement in fishing gear; poaching and illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells; destruction of nesting habitat; pollution of ocean environments; and disease. Sea turtles are long-lived and range over large areas of ocean, and understanding threats to the habitats they use throughout their life cycles is vital to developing effective conservation management strategies. Female sea turtles are relatively well studied on nesting grounds, and there very few beaches where both males and females bask where they are accessible. However, there is very little information on turtles at sea or at their foraging grounds. 

Sea turtle swimming under water
Sea turtle at Palmyra Atoll, United States. © Jennifer VanderVeur CBC/AMNH

Sea Turtle Research and Conservation in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

The CBC seeks to increase global understanding of biodiversity and its conservation across islands, archipelagos, and oceans; and Palmyra Atoll provides a unique opportunity to study turtles at an important foraging site.

When our sea turtle research program began in 2005 at the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a remote ring of islets and associated marine habitats in the Pacific Ocean, little was known about Palmyra’s green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) or about their use of the Atoll. Since then, we have developed a comprehensive research program that uses in-water turtle and habitat studies to further our understanding of the abundance, distribution, and movements of these turtles around the Atoll. The program also assesses population genetics, ecological interactions, feeding preferences, and health of and threats to this population.

Our pioneering research and conservation program was conducted in collaboration with scientists from several institutions (AMNH, City University of New york, U.S. Geological Survey, National Institue for Standards and Technology). It also forms a critical part of the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, a multi-institutional and cross-disciplinary research initiative on integrative biodiversity and ecosystem function at the site.

Ultimately, the results from this study will contribute to the effective conservation and management of sea turtles and their ecosystems - in this protected area and in the Pacific more broadly. It will further contribute significantly to knowledge of how turtles are distributed in the region and inform education initiatives.

Additional resources: 

Project partners: