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HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (November 9, 1998/Hulsen)---Negotiations have begun between the Fullard-Leo family of Hawai‘i and The Nature Conservancy, an environmental group, to turn Palmyra Atoll into a National Wildlife Reserve.

The privately owned U.S. atoll, located just north of Kiribati's Northern Line Islands group and about a thousand miles south of Honolulu, is made up of some 50 islets. It is uninhabited except for two caretakers.

Palmyra served as a military facility during World War II and often is used as a stopover point by Pacific yachtsmen.

In 1996, a New York firm, KVR, Incorporated, attempted to acquire the atoll for development as a nuclear waste storage site, but that plan failed due to Pacific-wide objections.

In recent years, other development proposals have included establishing a hotel and gambling casino, fish processing facilities and a rocket-launching site.

The new proposal for Palmyra calls for The Nature Conservancy to buy the tiny U.S. territory from its majority owners, the Fullard-Leo family, and then turn it over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for preservation as a National Wildlife Refuge.

Robert P. Smith, Pacific Islands manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said no other U.S. equatorial refuges have the tropical rainforest and extensive coral reef resources offered at Palmyra.

"The atoll's remote location, combined with the landowners' efforts in recent years to conserve its natural resources," Smith said, "have protected this lush tropical atoll from many outside influences."

Under the proposed refuge plan for Palmyra, it would remain open for some public use, including wildlife observation through hiking, diving and snorkeling.

More than a million sea and shore birds are regular visitors to the remote central Pacific atoll.

Smith said it has the second largest red-footed booby colony in the world, second only to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America.

Nine other seabird species nest on the atoll annually, including up to 750,000 sooty terns.

Palmyra also is home to threatened green and hawksbill turtles and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

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