From: Associated Press
Published November 18, 2005 12:00 AM

Hawaii Scientists to Study Palmyra Atoll

HONOLULU — Dozens of scientists from Hawaii and the mainland are launching a cooperative research project at Palmyra Atoll to study the remote area's pristine coral ecosystem.


The National Wildlife Refuge 960 miles south of Honolulu will be used to establish a base line for understanding environmental change elsewhere in the world.


"The thing that makes Palmyra so sexy to a researcher is that there are very few human impacts," said Barry Stieglitz, senior policy maker with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The atoll is made up of a ring of 54 small, heavily vegetated islands formed from coral growth on the rim of an ancient submerged volcano.


The group of researchers -- which includes the University of Hawaii, Stanford University, American Museum of Natural History and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography -- plans to use a new $1.5 million research center built on the atoll's Cooper Island by The Nature Conservancy.


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According to Stanford University oceanographer Rob Dunbar, the projects at the site will include deciphering information stored in millennia-old coral colonies to better understand long-term cycles of wet and dry years. Researchers will also examine the effects people have had on coral reef ecosystems and attempt to save a tropical forest of pisonia trees from a devastating invasion of ants and scale disease.


In 2000, The Nature Conservancy bought the atoll's 600 acres of land and 480,000 acres of submerged reef from the Fullard-Leo family. It then sold most of the area to the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Beyond the construction of a U.S. Naval air base in World War II, the atoll has experienced little human impact.


Over the years the Fullard-Leo family had turned down numerous offers from developers, including ideas to transform the islets into a nuclear dump and a casino.


With 125 different coral species, the atoll is home to three times the coral species as Hawaii. It also provides habitat for 29 bird species and the endangered green sea turtle and is a sanctuary for the world's largest land invertebrate, the coconut crab.


"This place is so remote," Stieglitz said. "It's not like any other place."


Source: Associated Press


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