Palmyra Ternado

We were given permission to tour Strawn Island, directly west of Cooper Island (map), the only island on the actual wildlife reserve portion of Palmyra Atoll where unaccompanied public access is allowed.

Several idyllic coves are along the lagoon side en route. Slightly less idyllic is the cove below right, the site where the bone’s identified as Muff Graham’s, of the Sea Wind murders, washed ashore and were found.


The sand flats here are a productive black-tipped reef shark nursery. We saw many, ranging from less than a feet long to over four feet long, cruising in water perhaps a foot deep. The sharks aren’t interested in humans and generally keep their distance, so we weren’t too concerned being in the water. But we did keep an eye on them.

A little farther along is the ruins of an old military powerhouse. We climbed a ladder to the roof for a sweeping view north.

The Norwest Gun Battery was once on the extreme northwest tip of Strawn Island and is slowly becoming part of the sea.

Walking back along the north shore, turtles were swimming just offshore with lots of boobies in the trees and the sky.



The tide was too high to continue alongshore, so we picked up the trail back in the woods. A pair of White Terns, apparently curious, swooped and wheeled only 3-4 feet above us for a good five minutes as we walked. They’re beautiful, delicate-looking birds.


We popped back out to the north shore to check out some offshore bunker ruins.


Near where Cooper and Strawn Island connect is a massive Sooty Tern nesting area. They prefer flat wide-open spaces–this is one of several areas the Palmyra Atoll staff have cleared to keep the terns off the runway. Thousands upon thousands of birds are here, on the ground and filling the sky above. The terns will often take off, fly around, then land as a group. We were out on the water with Amanda one time and passed under a literal cloud of Sooty Terns. “It’s a Ternado!” she joked.

We cooled of after the walk on the rope swing at the swimming hole (44, bottom right on map).  



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8 comments on “Palmyra Ternado
  1. Jen says:

    Hi Yong! Glad you’re enjoying it. Probably not a book–but lots of blogging though. We like the immediacy of that better.The island is actually moving rather than shrinking–shifting ocean currents and winds add land here and remove land there.

  2. Yong Qu says:

    It’s an amazing journey. Thanks for sharing this. Is a future book in the plan about the trip?
    on the Gun Battery: is it because the sand got washed away over the years? does that mean the size of the atoll is shrinking?


  3. Jacques, you are right that many birds will try to distract you from their nest. In the case of the white birds, they appear to just be incredibly curious in that they will follow you around flying close and watching. They are like that everywhere rather than just in the area of their nest.


  4. Jacques Vuye says:

    I would think those white terns were just trying to distract you from getting close to their nest.
    It is a fairly widespread behaviour with nesting birds.
    If you had gotten any closer they might even play "wounded", making you believe they are "easy prey" to attract you away from their nest.
    I think Amanda can probably tell you more on this.

  5. Jacques Vuye says:

    I am out of words to describe how much I enjoy you travel log updates!
    I think we would all love to be in the middle of such a Ternado!
    Isn’t Spitfire driven crazy with all these birds?

  6. Thanks Deborah and Steve. We just came up from an awesome dive. Lots of reef fish, a black tip reef shark, and several Manta Rays that swam super close. The video never does it full justice it still looks pretty cool. We’ll get it posted.


  7. Steve Heath says:

    Great pictures!!! Great trip!!! I’m loving the glimpses of your fantastic adventure that your blog provides. The pictures of Palmyra remind me of Wake Island, which I had the great fortune to experience while in the Air Force back in the 90’s. Good luck and have a safe voyage!!!


  8. Deborah says:

    Great photos! The white terns really are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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