Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) (roughly /pɑːpɑːˈhɑːnmkuˌɑːk.ə/[2]) is a World Heritage listed U.S. National Monument encompassing 583,000 square miles (1,510,000 km2) of ocean waters, including ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It was created in June 2006 with 140,000 square miles (360,000 km2) and expanded in August 2016 by moving its border to the limit of the exclusive economic zone,[1] making it one of the world's largest protected areas. It is internationally known for its cultural and natural values as follows:

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
August 2016 boundary and location
LocationNorthwestern Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii / Midway Atoll, United States Minor Outlying Islands
Nearest cityHonolulu, Hawaii, US
Coordinates25°42′00″N 171°44′00″W / 25.70000°N 171.73333°W / 25.70000; -171.73333
Area583,000 square miles (1,510,000 km2)[1]
EstablishedJune 15, 2006
Governing bodyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources, The Office of Hawaiian Affairs
WebsitePapahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
Official namePapahānaumokuākea
Criteriaiii, vi, viii, ix, x
Designated2010 (34th session)
Reference no.1326
RegionNorth America
Red pencil urchin – Papahānaumokuākea

The area has deep cosmological and traditional significance for living Native Hawaiian culture, as an ancestral environment, as an embodiment of the Hawaiian concept of kinship between people and the natural world, and as the place where it is believed that life originates and to where the spirits return after death. On two of the islands, Nihoa and Mokumanamana, there are archaeological remains relating to pre-European settlement and use. Much of the monument is made up of pelagic and deepwater habitats, with notable features such as seamounts and submerged banks, extensive coral reefs and lagoons.[3]



The monument supports 7,000 species, one quarter of which are endemic. Prominent species include the endangered hawksbill sea turtle, the threatened green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the Laysan and Nihoa finches, the Nihoa millerbird, Laysan duck, seabirds such as the Laysan albatross, numerous species of plants including Pritchardia palms, and many species of arthropods. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, populations of lobster have not recovered from extensive harvesting in the 1980s and 1990s, which is now banned;[4] the remaining fisheries are overfished, although commercial fishing is banned.[5]

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reported in 2008 that many species populations have not fully recovered from a large-scale shift in the oceanic ecosystem that affected the North Pacific during the late 1980s and early 1990s.[6] This shift reduced populations of important species such as spiny lobster, seabirds and Hawaiian monk seals. The monument receives strict conservation protection, with exceptions for traditional Native Hawaiian uses and limited tourism.[4]

The monument covers roughly 583,000 square miles (1,510,000 km2) of reefs, atolls and shallow and deep sea (out to 200 miles (320 km) offshore) in the Pacific Ocean – larger than all of America's national parks combined.[7] It contains approximately 10 percent of the tropical shallow water coral reef habitat (i.e., down to 100 fathoms (180 m)) in U.S. territory.[8] It is slightly larger than Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, approximately the size of the country of Germany, and just slightly smaller than Alaska.

The islands included in the monument are all part of the State of Hawaii, except Midway Atoll, which is part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands insular area. Henderson Field, on Midway Atoll, provides aerial access to the monument.

About 132,000 square miles (340,000 km2) of the monument are part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, designated in 2000. The monument also includes the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (590,991.50 acres (2,391.7 km2))[9] and Battle of Midway National Memorial, the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary at Kure Atoll, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands State Marine Refuge.

As a mixed site with natural and cultural resources, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) commented on the natural features of the monument, and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) assessed its cultural aspects.


Global locator map of all sites in the United States National Marine Sanctuary system

The monument's ocean area is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It contains U.S. and Hawaiian designated refuges, sanctuaries, reserves and memorials with separate administration.

The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, with an area of 254,418.1 acres (397.53 sq mi; 1,029.6 km2)[9] is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).[10][11]


Laysan and short-tailed albatrosses at Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument
Hawaiian monk seal
Spinner dolphins at Midway Atoll

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) were first protected on February 3, 1909, when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt created the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation through Executive Order 1019, as a response to the over-harvesting of seabirds, and in recognition of the importance of the NWHI as seabird nesting sites.[12] President Franklin D. Roosevelt converted it into the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge in 1940. A series of incremental protection expansions followed, leading to the establishment of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 1988, Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary in 1993, and the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000.[13][14]

President Bill Clinton established the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve on December 4, 2000, with Executive Order 13178. Clinton's executive order initiated a process to designate the waters of the NWHI as a National Marine Sanctuary. A public comment period began in 2002. In 2005, Governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle declared parts of the monument a state marine refuge.[15]

In April 2006, President George W. Bush and his wife viewed a screening of the documentary film Voyage to Kure at the White House along with its director, Jean-Michel Cousteau. Compelled by the film's portrayal of the flora and fauna, Bush moved quickly to expand protections.[16][17][18]

George W. Bush signing proclamation to establish the monument on June 15, 2006

On June 15, 2006, Bush signed Proclamation 8031, designating the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Using the Antiquities Act bypassed the normal year of consultations and halted the public input process and came just before the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary was to be published. This was the second use by Bush of the Antiquities Act, following the declaration of the African Burial Ground National Monument on Manhattan in February 2006.[19] The legislated process for stakeholder involvement in the planning and management of a marine protected area (MPA) had already taken five years of effort, but the abrupt establishment of the NWHI as a National Monument, rather than a Sanctuary, provided immediate and more resilient protection. The protection is revocable only by legislation.[20]

Joshua Reichert[21] proclaimed the importance of the timely designation, saying:

Monument status is quicker; it's more comprehensive; and it's more permanent. Only an act of Congress can undo a monument designation. The sanctuary process, it takes longer; it involves more congressional input, more public debate, more hearings and meetings. And he [George W. Bush] obviously made a decision today to, actually, take a bold step and create something which is going to be immediate, that the law applies immediately to this place now.[22]

The NWHI once accounted for approximately half of the locally landed bottomfish in Hawaii.[23] The NWHI bottomfish fishery was a limited entry fishery, with eight vessels, which were restricted to 60 feet (18 m) in length.[24][25] Frank McCoy, then chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, claimed:

We are pleased the President recognizes the near pristine condition of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands waters. We believe the abundance and biodiversity of the area attests to the successful management of the NWHI fisheries by the Council the past 30 years and indicates that properly regulated fisheries can operate in the NWHI without impacting the ecosystem. The small NWHI bottomfish fishery has not and would not jeopardize the protection of the NWHI that President Bush is pursuing by designating the area a national monument.[26]

Hawaiian squirrelfish at French Frigate Shoals, Papahānaumokuākea

The National Marine Fisheries Service published reports attesting to the health of bottomfish stocks.[27][28] Commercial and recreational bottomfish and pelagic fishing were recommended to be continued under a 2004 NOAA draft of protections.[29]

On February 27, 2007, President Bush amended Proclamation 8031, naming the monument "Papahānaumokuākea",[30] inspired by the names of the Hawaiian creator goddess Papahānaumoku and her husband Wākea.

On May 15, 2007, President Bush announced his intention to submit the monument for Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) status, which would "alert mariners to exercise caution in the ecologically important, sensitive, and hazardous area they are entering."[31] In October 2007, the Marine Environmental Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization designated the monument as a PSSA.[32] Commercial fishing ended in 2010.[33]

The Federal Interagency Panel for World Heritage officially designated the monument as a World Heritage site in November 2008. The national monument was inscribed on the World Heritage List in July 2010 as "Papahānaumokuākea".[34] at the 34th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Brasília.[35]

A 2010 expedition to the Kure atoll sent divers to a depth of 250 feet (76 m) revealing new species of coral and other animals. Waikiki Aquarium cultured the new coral species.[36][37]

During an annual cleanup in 2015, 705 toothbrushes and personal care items were removed from the shorelines of Midway Atoll

On August 3, 2015, divers found the wreck of the USNS Mission San Miguel (T-AO-129) within the monument. She had sunk there on October 8, 1957, when she ran aground on Maro Reef while running at full speed and in ballast. Researchers will map and study the wreck in situ.[citation needed]

In August 2016, President Barack Obama expanded the monument's area by roughly four times, to the limits of the exclusive economic zone. It was at that time the world's largest MPA.[38][39]

On October 21, 2019, the wreck of the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Akagi, which sank during World War II in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, was found within the monument by the research vessel Petrel.[40]

In 2020 a species of seaweed was discovered that has been killing large patches of coral.[41]

In 2022, a study reported that the MPA acted as a tuna nursery. Near the reserve the yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) catch increased by 54% between 2016 and 2019 and the bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) take increased by 12%. The catch increased the most at 115 to 230 miles from the area boundaries.[42]


See also



  1. ^ a b Barnett, Cynthia (August 26, 2016). "Hawaii Is Now Home to an Ocean Reserve Twice the Size of Texas". National Geographic. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  2. ^ "Learn to pronounce Papahānaumokuākea". February 27, 2007. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  3. ^ UNESCO's World Heritage listing for Papahānaumokuākea Accessed August 1, 2010
  4. ^ a b "Bush creates new marine sanctuary". Americas. BBC News. June 15, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  5. ^ "Lobster fishery remains battered". Honolulu Advertiser. June 19, 2006. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
  6. ^ Polovina, Jeffrey J. (2005). "Climate variation, regime shifts, and implications for sustainable fisheries" (PDF). Bulletin of Marine Science. 76 (2). Virginia Key, Miami, Florida: Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, University of Miami: 233–244. ISSN 0007-4977. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  7. ^ Reichert, Joshua; Theodore Roosevelt IV (June 15, 2006). "Treasure Islands". The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  8. ^ Rohmann, S. O.; J. J. Hayes; R. C. Newhall; M. E. Monaco; R. W. Grigg (November 2005). "The area of potential shallow-water tropical and subtropical coral ecosystems in the United States". Coral Reefs. 24 (3). Berlin: Springer: 370–383. Bibcode:2005CorRe..24..370R. doi:10.1007/s00338-005-0014-4. S2CID 31572150.
  9. ^ a b System, National Wildlife Refuge (September 30, 2007). "Lands Report – National Wildlife Refuge System". Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  10. ^ "Bush creates world's biggest ocean preserve". U.S. news / Environment. MSNBC. June 15, 2006. Archived from the original on November 8, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  11. ^ "Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Proclaimed a National Monument". Environment News Service. June 15, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  12. ^ "Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Citizen's Guide" (PDF). NOAA, USFWS, DLNR. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 10, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ National Marine Sanctuaries Act of 2000 Archived June 14, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, which became Public Law 106-513 on November 13, 2000.
  14. ^ "Designation". Management. NOAA. June 17, 2006. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  15. ^ "President Sets Aside Largest Marine Conservation Area on Earth (Story 2644)" (Press release). NOAA Magazine. June 15, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  16. ^ "President Bush Establishes Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument" (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary. June 15, 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  17. ^ Weiss, Kenneth (June 15, 2006). "Turnaround as Bush creates huge aquatic Eden". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  18. ^ "Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures". Voyage to Kure. KQED-TV. 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  19. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (June 15, 2006). "Bush Plans Vast Protected Sea Area in Hawaii". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2008.
  20. ^ Connaughton, Jim (June 20, 2006). "Ask the White House". Retrieved August 26, 2008 – via National Archives.
  21. ^ Head of Environmental Programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts. See: Reichart letter Archived June 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Jeffrey Brown (moderator); Jean-Michel Cousteau (guest); Joshua Reichert (guest) (June 15, 2006). "President Bush Declares National Monument in Hawaii". The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. NewsHour Hawaii June 16, 2006.
  23. ^ "Federal Fishery Managers Address Impact of NWHI Monument on Bottomfish Fishery and Research throughout Hawaii Archipelago" (PDF) (Press release). Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. October 18, 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  24. ^ Fishing Permits, Honolulu, HI, USA: National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office, archived from the original on May 27, 2010, retrieved September 4, 2012
  25. ^ "Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument". Retrieved June 9, 2012. All commercial fishing eliminated in 2010
  26. ^ "NWHI Fisheries and Ecosystem Protection Have and Can Co-Exist" (PDF) (Press release). Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. May 15, 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  27. ^ "Response to questions concerning Hawaii's bottomfish populations" (PDF). NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. October 27, 2005. Retrieved August 26, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  28. ^ "Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center response to questions concerning Hawaii's bottomfish and seamount groundfish populations" (PDF). NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. October 24, 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 25, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  29. ^ "Proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary" (PDF). NOAA. September 20, 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 10, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  30. ^ "Amending Proclamation 8031 of June 15, 2006, To Read, "Establishment of the Papahānaumokuāke Marine National Monument" (PDF) (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary. March 2, 2007. Retrieved August 28, 2008.
  31. ^ "President's Statement on Advancing U.S. Interests in the World's Oceans" (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary. May 15, 2007. Retrieved August 30, 2008.
  32. ^ "From the meetings • Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) • 57th session : Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas" (PDF), IMO News Magazine, no. 2, London, UK: International Maritime Organization, 2008, archived from the original (PDF) on August 28, 2013, retrieved June 9, 2012
  33. ^ "Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument". Retrieved October 24, 2022.
  34. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre. "UNESCO World Heritage Centre – World Heritage Committee inscribes two new sites on World Heritage List".
  35. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "World Heritage Committee inscribes two new sites on World Heritage List". Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  36. ^ Kubota, Gary T. (August 21, 2010). "Sea temperature rise prompts coral watch". Hawaii Star-Adverstiser. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  37. ^ "Waikīkī Aquarium » Coral Programs". November 12, 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  38. ^ Eagle, Nathan (August 26, 2016). "Obama To Create World's Largest Protected Marine Area Off Hawaii". Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  39. ^ "Fact Sheet: President Obama to Create the World's Largest Marine Protected Area". August 26, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2016 – via National Archives.
  40. ^ Magazine, ARGunners (October 21, 2019). "RV Petrel discovers the IJN Flagship AKAGI and Aircraft Carrier KAGA | Argunners Magazine". Retrieved October 24, 2022.
  41. ^ "Aggressive new seaweed is killing coral reefs in remote Hawaiian island chain". Los Angeles Times. July 8, 2020. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  42. ^ Koop, Fermin (October 21, 2022). "Protecting marine areas helps both fish and fishermen". ZME Science. Retrieved October 24, 2022.

Further reading