Papahānaumokuākea possesses a rich maritime heritage stretching back to a time long before written records. Native Hawaiian chants and oral histories tell of navigational knowledge developed over millennia, while shipwreck sites scattered throughout Papahānaumokuākea help tell the story of a more recent maritime past.
Many sailors successfully navigated their way through these remote, low lying atolls. However, these atolls also meant tragedy and danger for sailors on the 60 shipwrecks reported lost in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the earliest dating back to 1818. The Pearl and the Hermes, the earliest shipwrecks discovered to date, were lost on the same night in 1822 at the atoll that now bears their name. To date, seventeen of these shipwreck sites have been discovered and documented by NOAA maritime archaeologists. Exploration for the remaining shipwreck sites in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands continues.