The Beauty of Protecting Our Oceans: Shark Atoll

Palmyra Atoll is an uninhabited coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean that is part of a massive oceanic conservation area known as Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument- and it's filled with sharks! At least seven species of shark rely on the reef, lagoon and surrounding ocean, and we're learning more every day.

Thanks to researchers with The Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and UC Santa Barbara, new data shows that sharks don't just feed here, but they may be bringing vital nutrients to coral reefs when they return from feeding in the open ocean. Data shows that some sharks have gone as far as 300 miles away to feed before returning to this atoll.

August 10, 2020
Related To:

Photo By: Tandem / USFWS

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Tandem

Photo By: Tandem Stills + Motion

Photo By: Tandem Stills + Motion

Photo By: Tandem

Photo By: Tandem

Photo By: Tandem Stills + Motion

Photo By: Tandem Stills + Motion

Photo By: Tandem / USFWS

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Palmyra Atoll's coral reefs have a history of rebounding exceptionally well from warming waters and bleaching events, which are a sign of dying coral, though in this photo, all corals appear healthy and vibrant. Despite its protected status and remoteness, Palmyra is not free from all threats, as continual rising ocean temperatures, acidification and other problems threaten the health of all oceans.

Portrait of a robber crab on Palmyra Atoll, more commonly referred to as coconut crabs. Their bodies can get as large as an American football and their claws have the second most powerful grip in the animal kingdom, somewhere between an alligators jaws and a lions bite. The coconut crab is a land-dwelling crab, and never enters the water, though it prefers the cool, wet evenings for scavenging the jungle floor.

Photographer and filmmaker Ian Shive on location at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Photo Credit Alice Garrett / USFWS

A window into what the Pacific Ocean used to look like, Palmyra Atoll's coral reefs are a stunning example of a healthy ecosystem, attracting the attention and desire of researchers from around the world.

At first glance, this crashed Lockheed 18 Learstar looks like a remnant of World War II, but it is actually the remains of a crash on Palmyra Atoll in 1980. Everyone survived. Today, the plane is a symbol of the power of nature to reclaim its territory, though it takes time.

I've always loved the way a wave looks as it crests the dome of an underwater camera, almost like the mercury in a thermometer, it shines silver, reflecting the vibrant colors of the healthy coral reef below. Palmyra's coral reefs support over 400 different kinds of reef fish and at least seven known species of shark have been identified here.

Aerial view of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the larger Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument which was established on January 6, 2009. Palmyra has seen numerous visitors over the years, ranging from pirates to the U.S. Navy during World War II, though today it is protected as a base for research.

Palmyra Atoll is hot and humid, but a swimming hole provides a much needed respite from the heat, as well as from a hard days work.

A school of convict tang in the shallow waters of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge part of the larger Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Palmyra Atoll is a rugged coral atoll, with palm trees lining the shores and easily embodying the word "paradise." Palm trees, however, are an invasive plant here, disrupting the nesting habitat of the seabirds that rely on the atoll. A major effort is underway to restore Palmyra's native trees.

Convict tang and bluefin trevally in a vibrant coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge part of the larger Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument which was established on January 6, 2009. The coral reef here is considered one of the most pristine in the world, allowing scientists and researchers an opportunity to study what a healthy reef should look like. Healthy reefs, mean healthy sharks! Healthy sharks, mean healthy reefs.

During World War II, Palmyra became a base of operations of the U.S. Navy. Though the island never saw combat, there are still many ruins around the island, which are being reclaimed by the salty sea air and the passage of time.

A grey reef shark swims through a school of fish off Palmyra Atoll. Palmyra is widely considered one of the best places in the Pacific Ocean to study a healthy shark population. Some estimates put as many as 1,000 sharks per square kilometer, though the grey reef shark and black tip reef sharks are the most common. Palmyra is part of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

For the average visitor to Palmyra, easily the most common shark to be spotted is the black tip reef shark. Palmyra's inner lagoon is a shark nursery, which is clearly evident as you step into the water only to see a small shark swim over to warily inspect the intrusion. Black tip reef sharks are one of the most common species at Palmyra Atoll.

Shop This Look