Remotely situated one thousand miles south of the Hawaii islands lies Palmyra Atoll, a picturesque lagoon surrounded by more than 16,000 acres of coral reefs. This isolated marine wilderness area is part of the largest marine preserve in the world, the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument. The clear waters of Palmyra boastfully claim to support some of the healthiest reefs in the world, making the Atoll the “ultimate living laboratory” for marine scientists.
“The monument is a large, relatively pristine part of the Pacific Ocean,” explains Jenn Caselle, a research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) who conducts research on the 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 fifty miles out” (as stated in Current).
Caselle’s research over the past ten years has focused on top apex predators. Darcy Bradley, a Bren PhD candidate, joined this research opportunity in the spring of 2013 . Bradley discusses their specific research: “Shark populations are being decimated by fishing around the world, but Palmyra is a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge and as such it provides a rare opportunity to study an unexploited population of reef sharks. My research is part of an exciting collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and several researchers who are members of the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium. The goal of our research is twofold: (1) to understand what a healthy population of reef sharks looks like in terms of both population density and ecological characteristics, and (2) how non-fishing human impacts affect the spatial behavior of reef sharks. By answering these questions we hope to set recovery goals for depleted reef shark populations and to identify marine management tools that will effectively recover and protect reef sharks around the world.”
Their research is one of the largest shark population assessments in the world; as such it requires extensive analysis and devotion. “Collecting the data and traveling to a spectacular remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific is of course the fun part and I am incredibly lucky to participate in this research program and grateful to Jenn Caselle for inviting me to Palmyra to do so. Most of the year, however, is spent at my computer analyzing the mountain of data we collect.”
Darcy is in her fourth year in the Bren PhD program, advised by Steve Gaines and Bruce Kendall, and by her committee members, Jenn Caselle and Bob Warner from MSI.
Caselle and Bradley’s work in Palmyra, along with other researchers from UCSB, was recently featured in an article on the Current, UCSB’s official news site, and on Noozhawk, a Santa Barbara local, web-based newspaper.