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Palmyra Atoll
National Wildlife Refuge

About 1,000 miles south-southwest of
Honolulu, HI   
E-mail: Susan_White@fws.gov
Phone Number: 808-792-9560
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Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Palmyra Atoll Refuge, a circular string of 52 islets, is one of the most diverse and spectacular coral reef systems in the world. Over 130 species of stony corals populate the reefs. About 1,000 miles south-southwest of Honolulu, the atoll is the only nesting habitat for migratory seabirds and shorebirds within 450,000 square miles of ocean. It consists of about 680 acres of above-water forest lands and 515,232 acres of submerged lands and open water, including approximately 16,094 acres of coral reef habitat.

It is the only undeveloped and unpopulated wet atoll left in the tropical Pacific. The lush vegetation supports over a million birds of 29 species. Palmyra also provides a rest stop for the bristle-thighed curlew, a species of concern. Some 4,000 miles from Alaska, Palmyra is the first place the bird rests on its journey to French Polynesia. Only 6,000 of these rare birds are thought to exist, and several hundred of them spend the winter on Palmyra. Numerous other unique wildlife species also occur here.

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Wildlife and Habitat

At Palmyra, trade winds from the northern and southern hemispheres meet, about 350 miles north of the equator. As the winds meet, they create a phenomenon called the doldrums: light winds and lots of rain. As a result, Palmyra receives 175 inches of rain a year and is covered with a large stand of Pisonia beach forest, a rare tropical forest type found only on wet atolls. Some of the Pisonia grow over 100 feet tall.

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Palmyra's history is long and colorful. It was first sighted on June 14, 1798, by Captain Edmond Fanning and officially discovered in 1802 by Captain Sawle of the American ship Palmyra. In 1859, Dr. G.P. Judd of the brig Josephine took possession of the atoll for the United States and the American Guano Company. Three years later, King Kamehameha IV claimed possession for the Kingdom of Hawaii, but in 1889, Great Britian claimed the atoll. In 1898, President McKinley annexed the Territory of Hawaii, specifically mentioning Palmyra, to the United States, but Palmyra was excluded from the Hawaii State boundaries in 1959.

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Management Activities
The refuge will establish a limited take marine preserve in refuge waters. It will be closed to commercial fishing but will permit limited recreational bonefishing and sportfishing. Species identified as endangered or threatened will receive management priority, with a special emphasis on protecting sea turtles, migratory seabirds, the coral reef, and pelagic wildlife.

Management actions will include implementing navigational guidelines and aids to navigation to protect the shallow reefs from maritime groundings, periodic survey of the coral reef environment, periodic clearance of marine debris, and scientific research and monitoring.