Where Is Palmyra Atoll?

Flag of Palmyra Atoll.
Flag of Palmyra Atoll.

Palmyra Atoll is an unoccupied atoll located in the North Pacific Ocean. More specifically, the atoll is part of the Northern Line Islands and is situated south of the Hawaiian Islands, between Hawaii and American Samoa. The Northern Line Islands consists of a series of atolls and coral islands that were formed as a result of volcanic activity and cover a combined distance of approximately 2,350 km, making it the largest chain of islands in the world. Palmyra Atoll is an unorganized, incorporated territory of the United States, and is part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands. It is the largest island in the Northern Line Islands, with an area of 11.9 km2, has 14 km of coastline, and one anchorage, named West Lagoon.


Palmyra Atoll is an unoccupied equatorial North Pacific atoll. Despite being classified as unoccupied, the United States has deployed scientists and staff from various departments to conduct research on the island, giving it a temporary population that ranges between 4 and 25 people. Palmyra Atoll is protected under the US government and is administered by the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. 


Palmyra Atoll is primarily composed of reef-rock islets, bars that are mostly covered with coconut palms, pisonia trees, and shallow lagoons. Almost all islets of the atoll are connected, except for Home Islets, located in the west, and Barren Island, located in the east. The atoll falls within the same time zone as American Samoa, Midway Atoll, Jervis Island, and Kingman Reef. The Samoa Time Zone (UTC – 11:00) is calculated by subtracting 11 hours from Coordinated Universal Time.

Political Status

Palmyra Atoll is unique in that it is the only US territory since 1959 to be administered as an unorganized, incorporated territory. This means that Palmyra Atoll operates under the US Constitution and is permanently under US sovereignty, but since it is also unorganized there is no specific Act of Congress stating how the territory should be governed. Palmyra Atoll is primarily used for scientific research and has no permanent residents. In particular, the United States has deployed researchers from various departments to help understand the region. In 2004, the federal government built accommodations to support temporary inhabitants but has yet to develop particular laws regarding how Palmyra Atoll should be governed because the territory has no permanent population, and it is unlikely that this will change in the future. Since there is no local government and it is not part of any state, Palmyra Atoll is controlled directly from by the US Fish and Wildlife located in Honolulu.


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