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Palmyra Atoll – A Hope Spot for the World’s Oceans

Palmyra Atoll has been declared a Hope Spot due to its diversity of life and critical importance to the health of the world’s oceans.

Hope is key to conservation. Hope drives the ability for conservationists to continue working day after day to protect species, especially as species and ecosystems around the world experience drastic effects of the Anthropocene. Mission Blue, a non-profit coalition dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, has taken on the challenge to raise hopes for the health of the world’d oceans by creating “Hope Spots.” Palmyra Atoll, a remote island chain in the Pacific that was once plagued by the presence of invasive rats, has been declared a Hope Spot, which supports protections for the region’s incredible biodiversity.

What is a hope spot?
Hope Spots are critical areas in the world’s oceans that are home to a diversity of species but need additional protection to thrive. Described as “Earth’s blue heart,” Hope Spots provide hope for the future of our world’s oceans with their:

  • Special abundance or diversity of species, unusual or representative species, habitats, or ecosystems
  • Populations of rare, threatened, or endemic species
  • Potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts
  • Support of natural processes, such as major migration corridors or spawning grounds
  • Significant historical, cultural, or spiritual values
  • Economic importance to the community
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Coral Reefs full of diverse species surround of Palmyra Atoll. Credit: Andrew Wright

Why Palmyra Atoll?

Palmyra Atoll is located 1,000 miles southwest of Hawai’i and is home to a variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife that make it an important biodiversity hotspot. The native seabirds and vegetation once faced a serious threat due to the presence of invasive species, but after a conservation intervention undertaken by Island Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011, the island has been declared free of invasive rodents and native species are thriving. The seabirds that nest on Palmyra and the native plants that have been able to recover are only one part of the rich diversity in the Atoll; the surrounding waters are teeming with life and healthy, diverse coral reefs. Dr. Sylvia Earle, the legendary ocean explorer and marine biologist who founded Mission Blue commented:

Palmyra’s spectacular marine environment is a reminder of what our coral reefs should look like. Its remote Pacific location, its history of wildlife recovery and restoration, and the level of protection as a national wildlife refuge and marine national monument it receives make it ideal for scientific study and a beacon of hope for coral reefs everywhere.

Palmyra consists of 26 islets and provides habitat for many nationally and internationally threatened species including Sea turtles, Pearl Oysters, Giant Clams, Reef Sharks, Coconut Crabs, a large diversity of fish (at least 418 species), and marine mammals. The Atoll’s importance for biodiversity conservation has long been recognized, and protections were increased when President George W. Bush included the islands in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in 2009, which was later expanded by President Barack Obama in 2014. Alex Wegmann, the Nature Conservancy’s Palmyra Program Director explained:

A lot of scientific understanding of how marine ecosystems function is based on research at highly degraded places. Here, researchers can investigate what critical functions have been lost in more degraded reefs and how they might be restored.

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Manta Rays glide through the waters of Palmyra Atoll. Credit: Aurora Alifano

The Atoll is vital to the health of the island and coral reef ecosystem that surround it, and thanks to these increased protections, species have been even greater hope for recovery. Unlike many coral reefs around the world, the remote nature of Palmyra has made it possible for species to thrive even in the face of man-made threats to biodiversity. The declaration of this island paradise as a Hope Spot is another reason to celebrate the successes of past conservation and to look forward to the continued protection of Earths’s blue heart.

Palmyra is one of many Hope Spots around the world! Read about the declaration of the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and why this incredible archipelago has been declared a Hope Spot.

Featured photo: Hermit crab climbing on a branch on Palmyra Atoll. Credit: Andrew Wright
Source: The Nature Conservancy

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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