Palmyra Atoll Logo

Karen asked: I understand now how completely Palmyra is shaped by the forces of the ocean. Yet, while we can purchase and preserve the atoll and, perhaps, even the surrounding coral reefs, in this case they make up only part of the story. How can we also protect the waters, near and far, that give Palmyra life?
Chuck Cook, The Nature Conservancy replies: Karen, very good question. This is why our partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service is so important, and by combining forces at Palmyra, we can meet our conservation objectives of protecting a large functional land and sea-scape in the Central Pacific Ocean. In January of this year, the Department of Interior established the Palmyra National Wildlife Refuge that captures and protects 515,232 acres of submerged lands and marine waters, including the 16,000 acres of coral reefs. The refuge boundaries extend out to 12 nautical miles and affords protection to near-shore and pelagic fish species (Wahoo, Tuna, Mahi-mahi, Dolphins, Whale-sharks) as well as to migrating Green, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill sea-turtles. With these measures in place, we have an extraordinary opportunity to maintain the ecological connectivity of the myriad habitats found at and around Palmyra.
Robby asked: What steps are you taking to ensure that Palmyra stays a wilderness paradise? How do you stay there and avoid making an impact on the environment of the island?
Terry Tempest Williams replies: Robby: It's a great question and one that will be the ultimate challenge for the Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In my mind, it will be about regulating the numbers of people and having strict codes of conduct. All of us are being extremely mindful of the fragility of this place and are trying to exhibit as much respect as possible. Where the birds are nesting, we stay clear. We are vigilant about not touching the coral or disturbing it in any way. Even so, our presence does impact Palmyra, no question. The question then becomes, how to create as sustainable a camp as possible, one that honors the ecological mind of this extraordinary place. And to respect that the notion of community includes all species above and below, not just our own species.

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Farewell — Page 3

It is here in the Coral Garden, one sees that the preservation of Palmyra is the preservation of an entire ecosystem. The work of The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be an ongoing mission against a global tide of degradation.

There are those who predict a grim future for the coral reefs. The Greenhouse Effect may be a major contributor to their vulnerability with CO2 emissions causing the water to warm which stresses the corals that leads to coral bleaching and death. Commercial fishing also threatens the natural balance of the reefs, especially in Palmyra.

Three peach-faced triggerfish swim on the edge of the reef. They are formidable, territorial, and otherworldly. Their head is disproportionate to the rest of their bodies, eyes set high, with their dorsal fins undulating slowly, fluidly, to keep their heavy bodies upright. I cannot take my eyes off of them. They swim deeper and deeper, becoming more shadow than fish, until they are further and further out of reach. I want to follow them straight into the azure abyss, a wildness more seductive than any other because time spent in the sea will always remind us of our limitations as human beings.

Wilson Reed served the United States Marines on Palmyra from January, 1942 through March, 1943, during World War II. He told his children countless stories about the extraordinary nature of Palmyra: the birdlife, the coconut crabs, the fish, and the seashells. When he found out the atoll was being preserved by The Nature Conservancy he was thrilled. The day we arrived on Palmyra, Mr. Reed had a heart attack. His son sent word. Wilson Reed was buried on May 15, 2001, with a full Marine honor guard.

His son, Paul Reed, had one request: "My father was excited about the atoll being saved and hoped to travel there again some day. If you please, could you remember him while you are there and say a little prayer for him?"

Perhaps this is the final definition of paradise - a place of prayers, a place of blessings, a place where long-tailed tropic birds hover above lagoons.

Hope for the wild is not only recovered but restored.

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