The wind blows through the palm trees as the sun warms your face. You can hear the waves crashing on the beach. What could ruin this perfect day? Rats.
By 2011 Palmyra Atoll had become overrun with rats and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in coordination with Island Conservation decided to do something about it. Palmyra Atoll is a unique natural resource-a grouping of 25 islets in the Line Island archipelago that is cooperatively managed by TNC and FWS as a National Wildlife Refuge. The atoll and the surrounding waters are also protected as part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, for which Marine Conservation Institute successfully advocated. Palmyra is home to 15,000 acres of beautiful pristine coral reefs, numerous species of seabirds and shorebirds, giant clams, sea turtles, reef sharks, endangered fish and whales, and dolphins, as well as a rare coastal strand forest.
The history of rats at Palmyra likely began in 1941, when the atoll was a strategic outpost for the U.S. military and housed 2,400 soldiers. World War II forever altered Palmyra as the military brought roads, houses, waterlines, hospitals, and other infrastructure. Since then the population of the non-native rats grew to about 30,000. The rats threatened native birds, crab, and plant species, which experienced heavy predation.
In 2000 the Nature Conservancy bought Palmyra Island from the Fullard-Leo family to make the area into a nature preserve and in 2001 it became a National Wildlife Refuge. In 2011 the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in coordination with Island Conservation sought to reverse the increase in the non-native rat population. It took seven years of planning and research to ensure the proper elimination of the rats without harm to the native species. Today we can celebrate that Palmyra Atoll has been free of rats for one year! Scientists are already seeing increases in native tree seedlings, seabirds, shorebirds, crabs, and various insects, all of which had previously been food for the voracious rodents.