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.

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.

Photo by: Tandem Stills + Motion

Tandem Stills + Motion

The Shark Atoll of Palmyra

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. It's vital to the health of our world's oceans and it's filled with sharks.

August 10, 2020

As I stepped onto Palmyra for the first time, the endless shriek of sooty terns, a type of seabird, called out repeatedly with a high pitched cackle that never ceased, even at night. The jungle of the island is overgrown, the long arms of palm trees stretched out over the clear inner lagoon disturbed only by the gentle ripple of a black tip reef sharks dorsal fin breaking the surface as it hunts in the shallows.

Every night it rained, a kind of thunderous downpour that at once forces you to seek shelter, and at the same time, makes you grateful for its cooling effects from the blistering heat of day. This coral atoll is alive.

We're sorry, there seems to be an issue playing this video. Please refresh the page or try again in a moment. If you continue to have issues, please contact us here.

The Shark Atoll of Palmyra
Loading Video...

It's also a rare glimpse back to a time when all of the Pacific was this healthy, the last vestige of a primordial, tropical world. Palmyra Atoll is a remote, uninhabited coral atoll 1,200 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, and is widely considered by many scientists as one of the best places in the world to study an intact ecosystem--and especially sharks.

The first time I traveled to the atoll was part of an effort led by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and their partner, The Nature Conservancy. The rare beauty of an ecosystem uninterrupted immediately struck me. As a photographer, the opportunities abound. The only permanent residents are the wildlife--millions of seabirds, giant land-dwelling coconut crabs, and one of the most vibrant and healthy coral reefs I have ever set eyes on. Simply put, it was paradise, both for the visitor and for the creatures who rely on it for their survival.

There isn't much land at Palmyra, only about 600 acres, but it is the vital heart of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a much larger swath of land and ocean totaling 13 million acres. It may sound large, but it’s the bare minimum required to keep this ecosystem healthy and thriving. The island has seen its share of visitors through history too, ranging from stories of pirates and buried treasure, to a more modern history as a base of operations during World War II, and of course, its pivotal role today as a research station.

My assignment lasted 14 days, and through it all, I would photograph as much as I could. Mornings and evenings were spent alongside the lagoon, prowling the jungle for giant crabs, or under the heat of the midday sun. I could often be found in the safe, inner lagoon, photographing the coral and sharks. It doesn't take much to see a place like this and understand why it is so important that it is protected. I hope to return one day, but until then, I’ll dream of this paradise and relive the moments through my photos.

Ian Shive

Ian Shive is a photographer, author, film and television producer, and conservationist who has been praised as the “leading chronicler of America’s national parks.”

Next Up

No, This Weird Shark Species is Not a Spongebob Character

Is it a lumpy carpet? A steamrolled toad? A character from Spongebob Squarepants? Nope, it’s the tasseled wobbegong shark.

Baby Sharks are in Hot Water

Climate change impacts everything. From rising ocean levels to record-breaking wildfires, we can see the changes occurring with our own eyes. One of the most resilient species of all time is the shark. Warming waters are challenging their ability to adapt, and one of the signs of the times is smaller baby sharks that are having a hard time surviving.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Basking Sharks

With a scientific name that translates to "large-nosed sea monster," the Basking Shark is an elusive member of the shark family.

Great Mysteries of the Deep: How Sharks Find Their Way Home

How are sharks able to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and return to the same exact locations year after year? Last month, researchers found the answer to one of the greatest mysteries in the animal kingdom.

Everything You Need to Know about the Daily Bite

SHARK WEEK returns July 11 on Discovery and discovery+. This year, take a dive deeper with THE DAILY BITE PODCAST. Marine biologist Luke Tipple interviews the top experts behind SHARK WEEK, getting a behind-the-scenes take on their adventures and research -- from close calls and dangerous deep sea dives to the new discoveries and conservation happening today.

Shark Week: The Podcast is Splashing into the Scene

Bring the magic of Shark Week to your ears with this brand-new podcast.Shark Week: The Podcast launches July 18th on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you listen to podcasts.And get your heart pumping for Shark Week, starting July 24 on Discovery and discovery+.

Shark Week: The Podcast – How Sharks Are Built to Hunt

Dive in with marine biologist and shark expert Luke Tipple as he shares amazing facts about sharks' super-hero senses and dispels common shark myths.

Rare Baby Ghost Shark Discovered Off New Zealand Coast

Scientists hope the ‘very rare’ finding will fill in research gaps about the elusive species.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act Passed the US Senate

On World Ocean’s Day 2021, CHOW (Capitol Hill Ocean Week) took a CHOMP out of the threats that sharks are still enduring. The CHOW bite came in the form of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (SFSEA- S. 1106), which recently passed the senate and is now returning to the House for approval.

King of the (Sea) Monsters

This story begins like any good Godzilla flick: the unsuspecting scientist, perfectly specialized for their twist of fate, does something mundane. Then ‘BOOM!’ the monster appears--in this case the Godzilla shark.

Related To: