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Nature Conservancy Names New Director for Palmyra Atoll

June 4, 2019, 10:45 AM HST
* Updated June 4, 10:01 AM
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Chad Wiggins. PC: The Nature Conservancy

A former Hawaiʻi Island marine program director for The Nature Conservancy, Chad Wiggins has been selected as the organization’s new program director for Palmyra Atoll.

Located 1,000 miles south of Hawai‘i in the equatorial Pacific, Palmyra is co-owned and managed as an international research laboratory and national wildlife refuge by The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is also part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which, at 13 million acres, is one the world’s largest marine protected areas.

Wiggins takes on leadership of the Palmyra program as TNC launches the Climate Adaptation & Resilience Laboratory (CARL) at Palmyra to focus on advancing an ambitious science agenda with the potential to benefit conservation on a global scale. He will work in tandem with exiting program director Alex Wegmann, who intentionally transitioned to director of science for Palmyra in January of this year.

“I am excited about the many achievements the Palmyra program will make under Chad’s leadership,” said Ulalia Woodside, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Program. “He has served the Hawaiʻi Island team superbly and is well positioned to lead the Palmyra team, work with Alex to implement globally-important island-based conservation science, and redevelop the Atoll’s infrastructure and facilities.”

“I’m eager to share how the lessons we can learn from resilient atoll ecosystems like Palmyra will benefit Hawaiʻi, other island people and places and the rest of the planet,” said Wiggins. “I’m starting by listening to the smartest voice of all—the voice of Palmyra.”

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Wiggins started working with TNC Hawai‘i in 2008 as the lone marine staff on Hawai‘i Island. He grew the program through a focus on community-based marine management and diverse conservation partnerships. Under his leadership, TNC has supported site-based coastal conservation initiatives spanning the west coast of Hawai‘i Island, from Kohala to Miloli‘i, including helping the Ka‘ūpūlehu Marine Life Advisory Committee (KMLAC) establish their 10-year Try Wait rest area along 3.6 miles of coastline. Recent surveys there showed that after just two years, fish populations inside the preserve are recovering, with 60% more wrasses, 30% more parrotfish, and 46% more kole (surgeonfish). There is also evidence of spillover, or fish populations increasing, just outside the rest area.

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Other projects have included establishing the Conservancy’s loko i‘a (fish pond) Kīholo, or Kīholo Preserve; communicating sea level rise impacts on coastal ecosystems; hosting invasive fish removal events; and expanding community networks focused on caring for fishponds and estuaries, anchialine pools and nearshore marine resources. Today, the west Hawaiʻi coastal zone is one of NOAA’s 10 Habitat Blueprint Focus Areas, selected to highlight ways to address the growing challenge of coastal and marine habitat loss and degradation.

The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i is a private non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of the lands and waters upon which all life depends. TNC has helped to protect more than 200,000 acres of natural lands in Hawai‘i and Palmyra Atoll. We manage 40,000 acres in 13 nature preserves and work in more than 30 coastal communities to help protect the near-shore reefs, waters and fisheries of the main Hawaiian Islands. We forge partnerships with government, private parties and communities to protect forests and coral reefs for their ecological values and the many benefits they provide to people.

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