Palmyra (Atoll)

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Palmyra Atoll
Satellite image of the Palmyra Atoll
Satellite image of the Palmyra Atoll
Waters Pacific Ocean
archipelago Line Islands
Geographical location 5 ° 53 ′  N , 162 ° 5 ′  W Coordinates: 5 ° 53 ′  N , 162 ° 5 ′  W
Map of Palmyra Atoll
Number of islands approx. 25
Main island Cooper Island
Land area 3.9 km²
Lagoon area 8 km²
total area 37 km²
Residents uninhabited
Map of the Palmyra Atoll
Map of the Palmyra Atoll
Template: Infobox Atoll / Maintenance / HoeheFehlt
Nautical chart of the Palmyra Atoll

The Palmyra Atoll ( English Palmyra Atoll , [ pælˈmaɪrə ]) is an atoll in the Pacific Ocean and is located about 1,650 kilometers southwest of Hawaii . There currently is the only being incorporated, non-organized territory ( English Incorporated, unorganized territory ) of the United States of America and from these to the so-called United States Minor Outlying Islands counted.


Geographically, the Palmyra Atoll is one of the northern Line Islands . The closest land areas are the uninhabited and vegetationless Kingman attack a good 60 km further north-west and the Washington Island about 225 km further south-east . The total area of ​​the atoll is 11.9 km², 8 km² of which is accounted for by the lagoons and only 3.9 km² on land.

The atoll, formed from a nearly rectangular coral reef , consists of around 50 islands made up of sand and reef rocks, most of which are covered by vegetation. With a coastline of 14.5 km there is an anchorage known as the West Lagoon and two lagoons. With the exception of Sand Island in the west and Barren Island in the east, all islands are interconnected.

The northern range of islands is formed by:

  • Strawn Island
  • Cooper Island
  • Aviation Island
  • Quail Island
  • Whippoorwill Island

followed in the east by:

  • Eastern Island
  • Papala Island
  • Pelican Island

as well as in the south:

  • Bird Island
  • Holei Island
  • Engineer Island
  • Marine Island
  • Kaula Island
  • Paradise Island
  • Home Iceland

The largest island is Cooper Island in the north, followed by Kaula Island further south.

The atoll is located in the tropics near the equator , so the climate is extremely humid . The average annual precipitation is 4445 mm. The average temperatures are relatively constant between 29 ° C and 30 ° C. Due to the location of the atoll, the north and south currents of the Pacific meet here. As a result, floating debris and debris from the ocean wash up in large quantities on the atoll's beaches.

Flora and fauna

Red-footed Booby ( Sula sula ) on Palmyra

The atoll consists of 125 coral species , which is five times the number of coral species in the entire Florida Keys and three times the number of species in Hawaii, making it one of the most varied coral systems on earth. Because of the extensive reef that extends far into the sea located just below the surface of the water, the atoll forms a good habitat for special marine life such as blacktip reef sharks , giant clams and butterfly fish . The land areas offer the only breeding grounds in a marine area of ​​over 1,000,000 km². Black tern , masked booby , white-bellied booby and fairy tern are just a few examples of the multitude of breeding birds on the atoll. Several hundred of the rare bristle curlews that breed in Alaska come to Palmyra as winter guests . The atoll is also home to the second largest red-footed booby colony on earth. Among the rural residents, the green turtle and the palm thief should be mentioned.

Most of the islands are covered with thick vegetation. Here prevail coconut trees , native ferns and low Bushes before. In addition, one of the last beach forests of pisonia trees on the territory of the USA exists on the atoll .

Palmyra was by countless entrained inhabited rats to ecologists in 2011 a large-scale and successful eradication campaign against rats conducted. As a side effect, the dreaded Asian tiger mosquitoes also disappeared .


Unofficial flag

The American captain Edmund Fanning discovered the atoll on June 13th, 1798. According to legend, a foreboding of the captain at night saved the ship from being stranded. Just four years later, Captain Sawle, who also came from the USA, ran aground with his ship, the Palmyra , on the reef of the previously unnamed atoll.

In 1816 a shipwrecked man brought the story into circulation that a Spanish pirate ship named Esperanza , loaded with loot from Inca temples, was shipwrecked in the dangerous waters around the atoll; he is the only survivor. The allegedly buried stolen goods and traces of the ship were not found, but the legend survives to this day. Both the circumstances of the discovery of the island by Fanning and the pirate history contributed significantly to the emergence of a Palmyra mysticism.

The northern beach of the Palmyra Atoll

In 1859 the atoll was taken over by the American Gerrit P. Judd under the Guano Islands Act passed in 1856 . The main reason for taking possession of the atoll was the hope of mining guano . Since Palmyra lies in the intertropical convergence zone , the rainfall is too high for this excrement to accumulate. Meanwhile, on February 26, 1862, Kamehameha IV , the fourth king of Hawaii, sent envoys to the two Hawaiian citizens Zenas Bent and Johnson B. Wilkinson to instruct them to sail to Palmyra and take possession of the atoll for the king to take. On April 15 of the same year, Palmyra became part of the Kingdom of Hawaii . In the same year Bent sold the rights to Palmyra to Wilkinson, who owned the atoll for only three years before it was divided between three heirs and finally passed into the possession of the Pacific Navigation Company , which in turn made an unsuccessful attempt to take Palmyra colonize.

The runway on Cooper Island

The annexation of Hawaii by the USA in 1898 also explicitly included the Palmyra Atoll. In 1922, the Hawaiian Fullard-Leo family acquired the entire atoll. From 1940 to 1946 the United States Navy took over the island and used it as a naval and air base. The 2000 m long runway that runs through Cooper Island from east to west also dates from this time. In 1947, the former owners of the atoll, the Fullard-Leo family, won a lawsuit against the United States government and were thus again owners of the atoll.

When Hawaii was incorporated into the United States as the 50th state in 1959, the status of the Palmyra Atoll was intentionally not changed. Since then, the atoll has been the only territory in the USA that is entirely privately owned. In 1962, the US Department of Defense used the atoll as a measuring station for nuclear weapons tests on Johnston Island. At times 40 people worked on the atoll.

In October 2000, the Fullard-Leo family sold the entire atoll to the environmental organization The Nature Conservancy , so that the flora and fauna of Palmyra can be preserved for future generations. Palmyra has been part of the United States Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex since 2001 (since January 2009: Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument ) and is administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service . Scientists from all over the world have been running a research station on Cooper Island since 2005 to study the causes of climate change , the retreat of coral reefs and other environmental issues.

Human influences

Sign indicating the altitude and population of Palmyra

By and large, the Palmyra Atoll is uninhabited. There are no indigenous people and attempts at colonization have not been successful. For the first time during the Second World War , a large number of people came to the island. At that time, numerous roads were built next to the runway, which are now almost completely overgrown. But parts of the atoll are still closed today because of relics from this time.

For years there was a small research and measuring station on Cooper Island, in which only four people were employed at times. In 2004, however, the existing huts were renovated or rebuilt in order to be able to realize the station for researching global warming. There are currently up to 20 people, mostly scientific staff, on Palmyra.

Visiting the atoll for certain tourist purposes is possible, but is subject to strict limits and regulations.


Web links

Commons : Palmyra  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikimedia Atlas: Palmyra (Atoll)  geographical and historical maps

Individual evidence

  1. Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge - Wildlife and Habitat. In: Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. United States Fish and Wildlife Service , accessed June 4, 2017 .
  2. ^ Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. (PDF; 1.08 MB) Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef. United States Fish and Wildlife Service , p. 2 , accessed June 4, 2017 .
  3. double strike against invaders
  4. Local extinction of the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) following rat eradication on Palmyra Atoll (February 28, 2018. doi: 10.1098 / rsbl.2017.0743 )
  5. a b U.S. Unincorporated Possessions. Palmyra Atoll. In: World Retrieved June 4, 2017 .
  6. ^ Visitor Activities. In: Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. United States Fish and Wildlife Service , accessed June 4, 2017 .
  7. Plan Your Visit. In: Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. United States Fish and Wildlife Service , accessed June 4, 2017 .