Blog Post Kati Schmidt Apr 3, 2019

A Rare Look at Rose Atoll

New IMAX film 'Hidden Pacific' documents remote underwater wonders, including 'one of the last pristine wildernesses on Earth,' and shows the importance of protecting our wild marine national monuments.

Five of America’s national monuments are marine monuments that protect vast swaths of wild oceans — places so remote that few people ever get to experience them. Yet these underwater ecosystems critically need our attention and help.

Fortunately, photographer and filmmaker Ian Shive helps us experience the ocean through his snorkel mask and shines a light on a distant and fascinating part of the world. His latest filmmaking adventure took him to several islands in the Pacific, including Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, one of America’s most remote public lands, and one of the marine national monuments currently under review by the Trump administration.

Later this month on Earth Day, Shive will officially release his new film, “Hidden Pacific,” on IMAX and giant screen theaters worldwide (the “Hidden Pacific” website will soon list screening locations).

“Being on Rose Atoll, surrounded by some of the most pristine natural habitats in the world, with thousands of birds above and baby turtles at your feet, you get the sense that we’re just one small part of a much larger ecosystem,” said Shive. “It’s one of the last pristine wildernesses on Earth.”

Shive and his team were the first to professionally film on Rose Atoll, 185 miles east of National Park of American Samoa. The crew reached the island through a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu and a second, smaller flight to Pago Pago in American Samoa before hopping on a small boat for a rough 10-hour crossing.

“After three days of travel, we arrived sweaty, salty, tired, exhilarated and 40 other emotions, but you feel all of them dissipate when you see Rose for the first time,” Shive said. “Your senses are wild. No boats offshore, no planes overhead. At night, camping on the beach, there’s no light on the horizon. There’s so few wild lands that you can go to and see what it was like before humans. It allows us as humans to have our imagination struck.”

Shive worked in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to gain unprecedented access to these protected areas and received on-the-ground support from scientists and refuge managers, some of whom are featured in the film. “Hidden Pacific” provides a first-ever glimpse into these thriving ecosystems with vibrant coral reefs, large colonies of birds, colorful fish, giant crabs and threatened species that depend on these habitats for survival.

The island’s magnificent colors, revealed in the crew’s photographs and video, reminded Shive of another notable protected landscape. In his words, “Rose Atoll can easily be classified as the ‘Yellowstone of the Pacific,’ with its emerald pools of water, which at low tide reveal the rose-hued algae and the vibrance and range of colors.”

At 13,000 square miles, Rose Atoll would be gigantic on land but is merely a blip in the vast ocean. “From a scientific perspective, it’s the bare minimum necessary to sustain a healthy ecosystem,” said Shive. “Nothing is completely out of human reach in the ocean, but Rose is as pristine as you can get. There’s a huge intrinsic scientific value of the places that we protect, both for the values that they provide today and for the future questions they will help answer.”

The marine national monument is home to a vibrant coral reef ecosystem and threatened and endangered species, including nesting sea turtles. Because it is so remote, animals with populations that are vulnerable or threatened elsewhere have been able to thrive here, including giant clams, whitetip sharks and enormous fish known as humphead wrasse. Over 97 percent of nesting seabirds in National Park of American Samoa rely on Rose Atoll. Shive described the cacophony created from the tens of thousands of birds, including nesting terns, boobies, frigatebirds and noddies.

Despite its significance to wildlife and ocean conservation, Rose Atoll faces threats. The monument is one of 27 that were ordered for review by President Donald Trump in 2017. The president ultimately removed protections from roughly 2 million acres of land at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also recommended changes to Rose Atoll, Pacific Remote Islands, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. These recommended changes include shrinking the size of these monuments or altering commercial fishing rules at the sites, plans NPCA strongly opposes.

As public lands and waters, Rose Atoll belongs to all of us, and storytellers like Shive provide a crucial bridge to connect us to these vast and distant marine national monuments.

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“It’s an honor to help provide first connections to places like Rose,” said Shive. “I see my role as an educator. … I have the privilege of going into these places and capturing as much about them as I can, so the world can understand them.”

When asked how he hopes his film will contribute to the spirit of Earth Day, Shive answered, “We must recognize that we can’t just have national parks or islands of protected areas. We need to think of conservation as a lifestyle. There’s a saying that you can’t get something clean without getting something else dirty. Everything we do, transfers. I hope that people will start thinking more about what they want in their lives and begin to recognize the value that those places provide.”

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