Conservation Through Understanding
In the middle of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, situated nearly 1,000 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands, Palmyra Atoll is an ocean wilderness teeming with rare animal and plant life. Thanks to President Obama, half of the monument’s boundaries have been extended from 50 miles to 200 miles from shore. Last month, the president used his Antiquities Act authority to expand the monument to a total of nearly 500,000 square miles, making it the largest marine preserve in the world. It also presents unparalleled research opportunities for UC Santa Barbara marine scientists.
“The monument is a large, relatively pristine part of the Pacific Ocean,” said Jenn Caselle, a research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute who conducts research on Palmyra Atoll. “When we protect our near-shore coral reefs, we tend to forget that there are linkages through the movement of mobile animals, energy and water that go well past these arbitrary human boundaries of 50 miles out.”
Caselle is also director of the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium (PARC), a group of cooperating institutions that undertakes collaborative research to understand the terrestrial, marine and climate systems of Palmyra Atoll and the central Pacific. The group’s research advances the conservation of island and coastal systems worldwide. “You’ll see a theme in most of the work we do down there,” Caselle said. “It all takes advantage of the pristine nature of Palmyra. We do work that you can’t do anywhere else, and we’ve produced a lot of lucky graduates since 2004 thanks to PARC.”