Palmyra Atoll Logo

Brooke jumps into the lives of Jeff Foott and Franklin Viola, two incredibly dedicated photographers to the world of conservation. Read why they changed careers to do what they love today.

Jeff Foott and Brooke Williams take a kayak tour of the East Lagoon.
©Franklin Viola

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Live Expedition - Daily Journal
May 21st, 2001

by Terry Tempest Williams

"...but to create
is greater than created to destroy."

Paradise Lost
John Milton

There are ghosts here: Military bunkers emerge as ruins. Curlews cry on shore, but cannot be found. "Out of the blue" takes on new meaning when, suddenly, a dolphin appears and disappears at sea.

There are ghosts here: Boats with their hulls ripped out by coral are strewn on beaches like driftwood. Cement staircases in the jungle lead to nowhere. Graffiti written on free-standing walls records lost dreams found. Stories. Palmyra is a repository of stories.

Whether we are kayaking in the lagoon, watching frigatebirds pirate the boobies for fish, or diving deep with sharks following us as we follow them -- half-scared, half-ecstatic, at our close proximity with predators -- Palmyra is a paradise of stories.

Jim Maragos is the premiere storyteller. Tan, wild hair turned white, trim and fit, he wears a yellow shirt dappled with roses. His hands animate the history he carries; much of it is dark. He speaks of his work in the Marshall Islands, one of the first biologists to survey the islands in a "non-classified way."

In 1970, Jim Maragos was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii in oceanography. Interested in human impact on coral reefs, he wanted to extend his study to the Marshall Islands; specifically, he wanted to go to Enewetak Atoll. This was during the time Enewetak was uninhabited due to nuclear weapons testing from 1946 through 1958. The islanders were all living on Ujelang, to the west.

Maragos went with his mentor, Robert Johannes, and did biological surveys documenting the results of the testing.

"It was beyond anything imaginable," Jim says. "In addition to the mile-in-diameter craters that blew out the reefs, there were smaller craters as well. There was also heat destruction that must have boiled the water extending the damage to other areas. Johannes published their findings in the Marine Pollution Bulletin in 1971.

This is just one story, on one of the Marshall Islands. Each bears its own nuclear shadow.

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