What is the Monument?
Importance of NWHI
Access to the Monument
What is the Monument?
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is the largest single fully protected area in the United States and is the world’s largest fully protected marine area. It was created by President Bush under the authorities given to him in the Antiquities Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 431-433.
Creation of the Monument was based on extensive public input, including hearings and the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders and interested persons, gained when the same area was being considered for designation as a marine sanctuary. Nearly 52,000 public comments were received, the majority of which supported strong protection of NWHI.
Based upon this extensive public input and in order to provide additional immediate protection to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the Monument was created on June 15, 2006, by Presidential Proclamation 8031. National Monument status ensures the immediate, comprehensive, strong, and lasting protection of the resources of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
2. Does the Monument include both marine and terrestrial habitats?
Yes. The Monument includes all federally owned or controlled emergent and submerged lands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the waters that surround and lie atop them. The outer boundaries of the Monument were established by the map and coordinates appended to the Proclamation, and include marine waters in the NWHI extending out approximately 50 miles on both sides of the chain of islands. The terrestrial habitats within the Monument are part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, established by President Theodore Roosevelt, or the Midway National Wildlife, established in 1996 by transfer from the Navy.
3. How will the federal and state governments interact to manage the Monument?
The three principal entities with responsibility for managing lands and waters of the Monument – National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the State of Hawaii (collectively, the Co-trustees) - are working cooperatively and will consult to administer the Monument. The Co-trustees have established a goal to provide unified management in the spirit of cooperative conservation. This relationship will be further described in a Memorandum of Agreement among the Co-trustees. The Proclamation provides that the Co-trustees shall work cooperatively to develop a management plan for the region, based upon the draft management plan developed during the sanctuary designation process. The management plan will include provisions for coordinated permitting, research, education, enforcement, cultural practices and other management related activities. NOAA, the USFWS and the State of Hawaii already work closely to manage resources in this area under a memorandum of agreement signed on May 19, 2006. This agreement will remain in effect. As directed by the Proclamation, NOAA, the USFWS and the State of Hawaii will work to update the agreement as necessary to reflect the provisions of the Proclamation.
4. How does the establishment of the Monument affect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve?
Executive Orders 13178 (December 4, 2000) and 13196 (January 18, 2001) established the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (Reserve) to be managed by NOAA, and identified the principal purpose of the Reserve as the conservation and protection of the NWHI in its natural character. In addition, the Executive Orders called for the initiation of a process to designate the Reserve as a national marine sanctuary that would supplement and complement the Reserve, as well as the long-term protections provided by the two National Wildlife Refuges and State lands and waters that the Reserve surrounds.
Although the Monument encompasses the areas protected by the Reserve and provides a higher level of protection, the National Marine Sanctuaries Amendments Act of 2000 and the Executive Orders establishing the Reserve remain in effect. NOAA staff will also manage the Reserve, in consultation with USFWS and the State of Hawaii.
5. How does the establishment of the Monument affect the two National Wildlife Refuges?
The two refuges are part of the Monument and will be managed in close coordination with NOAA and the State. They remain as National Wildlife Refuges, managed in accordance with the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and the provisions of the Proclamation.
6. How does the establishment of the Monument affect State lands and waters?
The Proclamation specifically states “nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to diminish or enlarge the jurisdiction of the State of Hawaii.” The State of Hawaii will continue to work in partnership as a Co-trustee with the USFWS and NOAA to manage those lands and waters under its jurisdiction.
7. How does the establishment of the Monument affect the sanctuary designation process?
The National Marine Sanctuaries Amendments Act (NMSAA) and the Executive Orders establishing the Reserve directed the Secretary of Commerce to take action to initiate the designation of the Reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary, in order to ensure the comprehensive, strong, and lasting protection of the resources of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Secretary of Commerce did initiate designation of the Reserve as a national marine sanctuary. The Monument provides the level of protection envisioned by the draft sanctuary proposal; therefore NOAA is not pursuing sanctuary designation for the area but is instead focusing on management of the Monument in the spirit of cooperative conservation with their co-trustees. As a result, a draft Management Plan will be released addressing the management requirements of the Monument. A draft Plan will be issued to the public in several releases over the course of 2006/2007.
8. When do the provisions of the Monument take effect?
The Presidential Proclamation that established the Monument has the full force and effect of law. The provisions of the Proclamation were therefore effective immediately upon issuance of the Proclamation on June 15, 2006. Joint regulations codifying the provisions were published in the Federal Register on August 29, 2006, (71 Federal Register 51134) and are also in effect.
Importance of NWHI
1. Where are the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands?
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are a chain of small islands, atolls, submerged banks, and reefs in the central North Pacific Ocean. They begin approximately 115 nautical miles (140 miles) northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands, and extend northwest for more than 950 nautical miles (1,200 miles). This vast archipelago is mostly uninhabited and is surrounded by some of the most extensive and healthy coral reefs in U.S. waters. The coral reefs are part of a unique marine ecosystem found nowhere else on Earth. The reefs and related ecosystems include a diverse variety of habitats extending seaward from the archipelago's shorelines.
2. What is special about the NWHI?
The healthiest and least disturbed coral reefs in U.S. waters are found in the NWHI. The NWHI ecosystem includes approximately 3,910 square nautical miles (5,178 square miles) of coral reef habitat with a diverse and unique assemblage of fish, invertebrates, birds, sea turtles, marine mammals and other species. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands include a much greater diversity of reef habitats than the main Hawaiian Islands, and provide vital habitat to a variety of federally protected species. These include the threatened green sea turtle, over 14 million seabirds, endangered land birds and plants, and several species of marine mammals, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
Numerous archaeological artifacts found on two of the islands reveal a close relationship with the Hawaiian culture, with evidence of both prehistoric seasonal and permanent settlements, as well as use of the area for religious purposes. Some of the religious sites resemble those found elsewhere in the Marquesas and Tahiti, possibly indicating a link to early Polynesian cultures. The more recent history of the islands is one of both commercial and military usage for a range of purposes, from pearl oyster harvest and fishing to guano mining, which wrought significant changes in topography, flora and fauna.
This area is also the site of one of the oldest National Wildlife Refuges, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, designated in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The area was also the site of the Battle of Midway, a pivotal World War II battle that occurred near Midway Atoll. The Monument overlays the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary, and the NWHI State Marine Refuge.
3. What activities currently occur in the NWHI?
Some of the activities currently occurring in the NWHI include a small commercial bottomfish/pelagic fishery that is active in federal waters of the NWHI, and will be allowed to continue for no longer than five years. The NWHI coral reef ecosystem is also the site of ongoing scientific and monitoring activities to explore, map and better understand the unique ecosystem. Research and monitoring activities on terrestrial areas have created some of the longest term and most complete seabird databases in the world. These efforts are often joint projects among many partners, including NOAA, USFWS, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii, and others.
Co-trustee agencies are authorized to issue permits for a variety of other activities in the Monument, including research and monitoring, Native Hawaiian practices, education, special ocean use (activities engaged in to generate revenue or profits that do not destroy, cause the loss of, or injure Monument resources), recreation, and conservation and management.
4. What are the primary ecosystem threats for the NWHI?
Human activities are the cause of many of the threats to the ecosystem of the NWHI. These include, among others, vessel groundings, pollution from ships and other vessels, derelict fishing gear, derelict military and commercial infrastructure, land development, the introduction of alien species, and research and ecotourism impacts. Other causes for concern include fishing, marine mammal entanglement in derelict fishing gear, toxic materials in the environment, and impacts from fluctuations and the rise in ocean temperature.
Ocean currents have deposited thousands of tons of marine debris and derelict fishing gear from the North Pacific onto the islands, atolls, and reefs of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The nets and lines can entangle and drown monk seals, sea turtles, and seabirds, as well as scour coral reefs. Floating plastic debris is eaten by adult albatross and fed to their young, often with fatal effects. Marine debris is also thought to be a potential conduit for the accelerated introduction of alien species to coral reef ecosystems.
Some additional threats to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands include natural processes such as major winter storms, periodic hurricanes, and tidal waves. In the mid-1970s to late 1980s, changing oceanographic conditions (decadal shift) may have caused the islands' biological productivity to decrease, affecting food availability for some of the resident animals.
What is the size of the Monument?
The Monument encompasses approximately 105,564 square nautical miles (139,797 square miles) of emergent and submerged lands and waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
2. What is the area of coral reef habitat within the Monument?
Current mapping efforts estimate that coral reef habitat covers approximately 3,910 square nautical miles (5,178 square miles).
3. What are Special Preservation Areas and why were they created?
Special Preservation Areas (SPAs) are discrete, biologically important areas of the Monument. Uses within SPAs are subject to conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions, including but not limited to access restrictions. SPAs are used to avoid concentrations of uses that could result in declines in species populations or habitats, to reduce conflicts between uses, to protect areas that are critical for sustaining important marine species or habitats, or to provide opportunities for scientific research.
4. What are the areas of the Special Preservation Areas and the Ecological Reserves?
The Special Preservation Areas cover a total area of 5,136 square nautical miles (6,802 square miles), including the 698 square nautical mile (924 square mile) Midway Atoll Special Management Area. The Ecological Reserves cover a total of 28,512 square nautical miles (37,762 square miles).
Access to the Monument
5. Does this designation mean I can still take my recreational vessel to the NWHI to dive or fish?
Under the Proclamation, these are considered recreational activities. The Midway Atoll Special Management Area is the only area where recreational activities may be permitted. A recreation permit may be issued for a number of non-extractive activities in that area. These activities are conducted for personal enjoyment and cannot result in the extraction of monument resources or involve a fee-for-service transaction. Recreational fishing is prohibited throughout the Monument.
6. How does the Monument impact ecotourism or other business opportunities?
A special ocean use permit may be granted for ocean-based ecotourism. The findings, criteria, and requirements associated with issuance of special ocean use permits ensure comprehensive protection of the resources and habitats of the NWHI. Special ocean uses outside of the Midway Atoll Special Management Area may not involve the use of commercial passenger vessels.
7. Are Native Hawaiian practices allowed to continue in the Monument?
Native Hawaiian practices may be authorized within the Monument through a Native Hawaiian practices permit. A permit for Native Hawaiian practices cannot be issued unless it satisfies criteria set forth in the Proclamation, including:
a. The activity is noncommercial and will not involve the sale of any organism or material collected;
b. The purpose and intent of the activity are appropriate and deemed necessary by traditional standards in the Native Hawaiian culture (pono), and demonstrate an understanding of, and background in, the traditional practice, and its associated values and protocols;
c. The activity benefits the resources of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Native Hawaiian community;
d. The activity supports or advances the perpetuation of traditional knowledge and ancestral connections of Native Hawaiians to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; and
e. Any monument resource harvested from the monument will be consumed in the Monument.
8. Is commercial fishing allowed in the Monument?
The Proclamation provides that commercial fishing for bottomfish and associated pelagic species by existing permittees may continue for no longer than 5 years. No other commercial fishing is allowed within the Monument. Fishing will continue to be managed by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service until June 15, 2011, consistent with the Proclamation and other applicable laws and regulations. The proclamation includes several other restrictions, including the limit on total annual landings at 350,000 pounds for bottomfish species and 180,000 pounds for pelagic species.
9. What is a vessel monitoring system (VMS) and who needs one to enter the Monument?
A Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is a satellite-based tracking system, approved by NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE). It is used for vessel monitoring and automatically transmits the vessel’s position and other inputted data from a transmitter onboard the vessel via satellite to NOAA OLE. The Proclamation requires the use of a properly installed, type-approved, and operational VMS unit on all permitted vessels operating within the Monument. NOAA OLE published a notice of approved vessel monitoring systems in the Federal Register on July 14, 2006 (71 Federal Register 40080).
10. Does the Proclamation prohibit vessels legally fishing for bottomfish/pelagics from anchoring in the Monument?
The Proclamation prohibits anchoring on live or dead coral, except as necessary to respond to emergencies threatening life, property, or the environment. Given the distance from the Main Hawaiian Islands, the small size of the permitted fishing vessels, and the small number of crew typically on board such vessels, anchoring could be necessary to respond to weather conditions, currents, or other variables that could threaten life, property or the environment.
The Co-trustees (NOAA, USFWS and the State of Hawaii) are jointly developing a Monument Management Plan. The Plan will be based upon the draft sanctuary management plan developed during the sanctuary designation process and draws on the extensive public and agency comments submitted during that process. A draft Plan will be issued to the public in several releases over the course of 2006 and 2007.
The Co-trustees will work together over the course of the next year to determine the appropriate mechanisms to engage the public and stakeholder groups for purposes of the Monument. The Co-trustees recognize that a participatory process and engagement contributes to strong stakeholder involvement and buy-in in the management of the Monument.