As one of his last official acts in office, President Bush declared three new national marine monuments last month, expanding the area under strict protection in the Pacific Ocean. One of these sites is Palmyra Atoll, a pristine Line Island in the South Pacific. This remote destination features classic coral reefs, mostly untouched by humans, that can provide scientists with baseline data on what a healthy reef ecosystem should look like.
Palmyra was first claimed by the Hawaiian Kingdom and later annexed by the US in 1898. Statehood for the Aloha state in 1959 did not include Palmyra, and today it is primarily privately owned by the Nature Conservancy, with the rest owned by the US government and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Academy of Science in San Francisco is part of a research consortium that helped educate the federal government on the importance of such areas to scientific research. A Polynesian voyaging canoe will set sail from Hawaii in March and head into the South Pacific, aiming to reach tiny Palmyra Atoll near Kiribati using only an ancient seafaring skill known as “wayfinding.” Travel to Palmyra is restricted mostly to researchers these days but perhaps, like other remote and environmentally pristine places, organized tours may be in it’s future.