Palmyra Atoll Digital Archive

An independent archive dedicated to the preservation and sharing of Palmyra’s history.

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Roger Lextrait
From 1992 to 1999, French sailor and renaissance man Roger Lextrait managed Palmyra, welcome visitors and keeping the atoll safe. Explore video and photos from his unique time on the atoll.
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As early as 1843, scientists have visited Palmyra to study its unique flora and fauna. Explore our collection of photos and documents to learn how science has benefited from the atoll's unique features.
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World War 2
After a dramatic series of construction projects, Palmyra became an active Naval base from 1941 to 1947. Learn about life on the atoll during WW2 from the men who lived and served there.
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Ham Radio
Amateur radio operators have been visiting Palmyra since the 1940s, broadcasting signals all over the world from its distant islets. Explore our collection of photos, stories, and QSL cards.
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Civil Aeronautics Authority
From 1947 to 1950, nearly 100 civilians, mostly families, lived and worked on Palmyra, manning its radio and refueling facilities. Explore our collection of donated photos and letters.
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Fullard-Leo Family
From 1920 to 1999, the Fullard-Leo Family owned and cared for Palmyra, before selling it to the Nature Conservancy. Explore our collection of photos and publications describing their history.
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To explore material available from online sources outside the archive, visit our Bibliography section.

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Browse all the material we've catalogued and digitized from Palmyra's past.
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An exhaustive list of publications and other materials discussing Palmyra, available around the internet and in print, and where to find them.
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Explorations of events, people, and objects from Palmyra's past.
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Common questions about Palmyra

Palmyra sits approximately 1,000 miles South of Hawaii. Traveling by plane from Honolulu (the most common method) takes about 2.5 hours in good weather.  If you’re more adventurous, you could sail from Honolulu harbor  in about 8 days if the wind holds, or 3 days if you run the motor.

On November 10th, 1802, Captain Cornelius Sowle of Rhode Island, became the first westerner to set foot on Palmyra.  During a return trip from China, he made landfall on what was then an uncharted atoll, and named it for his ship, the Palmyra (read his original announcement here).

Portrait of Captain Sowle circa 1805, painted in China

British explorer Edmund Fanning, in his 1833 memoirs “Voyages in the South Pacific,” claims to have discovered Palmyra in 1798, after a night of perilous visions. However, beyond this likely exaggerated story, no evidence exists to support his claim.

In 1999, the Nature Conservancy purchased Palmyra from its private owners, the Fullard-Leo Family, who had owned Palmyra since 1920.  The family had other buyers interested, who were offering substantially more money (including billionaire Bill Gates), but they turned these down, choosing to ensure Palmyra’s natural legacy would be given first priority.

Today, the 25 islets and their lagoons are jointly owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy and US Fish and Wildlife Service.  The one exception being Home Island (sometimes called “Broken Home” because natural erosion has split it down the middle), which still belongs to descendants of Henry Cooper, who owned Palmyra prior to the Fullard-Leo’s.

A small team of rotating staff and researchers occupy Palmyra year round, each working in shifts lasting no longer than 3 months.  They live in a small village near the runway on Cooper Island.  The atoll will occasionally hosts additional visitors of 5-10 people.

The other 24 islets are uninhabited, and devoted to preserving Palmyra’s native flora and fauna.

Not even a little bit!  Despite several poorly researched and largely fictional works describing a “curse” of Palmyra, the reality is, it’s one of the safest places to wash up in the Pacific.  Of the recorded shipwrecks and downed craft who have reached the atoll since its discovery in 1798, the survival rate is 100%. 

Nearly all the accounts I’ve read describing the atoll, dating all the way back to its discovery in 1804, speak about its beauty, rich wildlife, and welcoming atmosphere.  After the tragic events of 1974, several parties (including a certain lawyer at the center of those events), painted a picture of Palmyra that simply doesn’t exist.

The only “curse” Palmyra may have, is for anyone who tries to profit from its resources.  To date, despite dozens of attempts over the last 200 years, none of the entrepreneurial enterprises attempted, have ever netted a profit.

To protect Palmyra and its future, visitors must contact the US Fish and Wildlife Service or the Nature Conservancy, to arrange a visit.

What is Palmyra like Today?

In January of 2019, I had the chance to spend a week on Palmyra.  This video showcases some of the highlights from my time on the atoll, including exploring the remnants of World War 2 structures left by the Navy, and interacting with the wide variety of wildlife thriving there. 

Special thanks to the Nature Conservancy and their staff for the ongoing support of preserving Palmyra’s history, and for making the trip possible!

Share Your History
Our best material comes from photographs and documents donated, or stories told to us, by those who have visited Palmyra, or their family. If you or someone you know has a history with Palmyra, we'd love to hear from you!
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