Palmyra Atoll, Sooty Terns and Invasive Rat Eradication

By William Beyer

Sooty Tern – Photo By Giorgio Minguzzi from Italy (Rodrigues Isl. Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Mr. William Beyer has been a Flathead valley resident since 1982, and got interested in bird watching after attending Bird Identification classes at FVCC. He has also been an Audubon member since the mid 1990’s and participates in Christmas bird counts when not away from home. William has worked as a mechanic at remote locations such as Antarctica off and on since 1999. At present, William works part time for “The Nature Conservancy” at “Palmyra Atoll Research Station” as a Maintenance Technician with his first deployment being in 2007.

Palmyra Atoll is a 600+ acre speck of land with a maximum elevation of 6 feet above sea level. It lies 5 degrees North of the equator, roughly 940 miles South of Hawaii. The Nature Conservancy owns several of the islands that make up the atoll complex and the remainder belongs to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and some private interests. The Palmyra National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Pacific Marine National Monument system the protects thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean from commercial fishing and exploitation. Palmyra Atoll is one of the few places left where several dozen species of sea birds can still nest un-molested by man and rat alike. Palmyra Atoll is also a living laboratory where scientists and biologists can come and study the surrounding coral reef, lagoon and terrestrial life systems. The collaborative effort between TNC and USFWS allow for this, and there is enough infrastructure to support this research.

When conditions are right, Sooty Terns nest on Palmyra Atoll in huge numbers (66,000 pairs in 2011). This is quite a sight. Up to 7 nests/square meter and the sound is incredible, so incredible that Alfred Hitchcock chose this sound for his movie, “The Birds”. Sooty Terns spend most of their life on the wing and out at sea, only landing to reproduce.

Rats were likely introduced to Palmyra Atoll during WW-2 and had a devastating impact on nearly every form of terrestrial life here. However, in 2011, a team of experts using proven techniques were able to rid the atoll completely of the rodents. Today Palmyra is still 100% rat free. The change has been dramatic and has brought new but mostly expected changes that have yet to be addressed if need be.

William is planning to share some photos of Palmyra Atoll, the “Rat Project” and some of its bird life. Join us at 7 PM at the Gateway Community Center in our regular meeting room for this free presentation. All are welcome.