All eyes are on the national parks this year. As the National Park Service turns 100 years old, people are driving and hiking, swimming and skiing their way through the protected lands. While they’re breathtaking, it’s sometimes hard to find a moment of solitude. For that, you may have to go to a National Wildlife Refuge. They may not be celebrating a milestone this year, but the public lands and waters are still home to some of the most fascinating plants and wildlife on the planet.
It’d be harder to find a place more peaceful than the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Palmyra Atoll, an unincorporated territory, is administered by the United States and the Nature Conservancy, a charitable environmental organization. It’s part of the Line Islands and Micronesia, and it lies about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii.
The atoll—which encompasses 50 islets, an extensive reef, and two shallow lagoons—has no permanent residents. It was first sighted by an American explorer en route to Asia in 1798. The United States later claimed the area, though it changed hands many times—and was occupied by the United States Navy during World War II—over the next few centuries. It’s now a vast and astounding marine wilderness area.
Palmyra Atoll may not have any human residents—just visiting scientists and government staff—but the islets certainly aren’t uninhabited. Due to lots of rainfall, the land is covered with dense vegetation, including grand devil’s-claws and coconut trees, plus flowering scaevola. Seabirds, like boobies (brown, masked, and red-footed) and noddies (black and brown) use the islets as feeding and nesting grounds. Huge coconut crabs patrol the waterline. Green and hawksbill sea turtles glide through the lagoons, which giant clams, stony corals, and more than 400 species of fish call home. While Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and melon-headed whales play in the surrounding waters.
You dream of snorkeling or scuba diving in these remote waters. But the atoll is very hard to reach and access is rarely granted. Palmyra Atoll will not only be protected, but left completely untarnished, for well more than 100 years.