The reef surrounding Palmyra Atoll, an island in the midst of the new Pacific Remote Island Marine Monuments, is practically untouched by people. Other than occupation during World War II and a couple of shipwrecks, the only human impact is the ongoing presence of a small research station for scientists. That gives those researchers the opportunity to study what reefs looked like before the influence of overfishing, sewage contamination and other human activities. And it may provide a baseline for what a pristine reef should look like as the effects of human habitation spread to every corner of the planet. "It will give us better guidance on what some of the restoration targets should be," says marine conservation scientist Dan Brumbaugh of the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. "It will tell us what processes need to be restored to more degraded reefs elsewhere."

Slide Show: Life on the Reef