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A Treasure Chest of Science

By Linda Tancs

Located 1,000 miles south of Hawai’i, Palmyra Atoll is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth. Declared a national marine monument, its pristine and unoccupied environs are jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. As a center for scientific study, research there helps inform island conservation efforts around the world. Imagine a place where sharks still dominate the reef ecosystem, a place where over a million nesting seabirds and the rare coconut crab find refuge. Although it has never been settled, its history is nonetheless interesting. Named after an American shipwreck, it was claimed by the sovereign Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1862 and came under United States jurisdiction following the annexation of Hawai’i in 1898 (Hawai’i later entered statehood in 1959). Nonetheless, it was privately owned and even used by the U.S. Navy as an air refueling station during World War II. The Nature Conservancy acquired Palmyra from the Fullard-Leo family for $30 million in 2000. Because the atoll is specifically excluded from the State of Hawai’i, it was the only privately owned territory in the United States. These days its inclusion as part of a new national Pacific marine monument increases the amount of protected ocean wilderness surrounding Palmyra from half a million acres to 13 million acres, including nearby Kingman Reef.

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