Celebrating 10 Years and Scores of Success
On June 15, 2006, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was established by Presidential Proclamation 8031, creating the largest marine protected area in the world at the time. A year later, it was given its Hawaiian name, Papahānaumokuākea.
This year, we celebrate a decade of accomplishments made in conservation management, restoration and discovery, and recognize Hawaii's role in ushering in a new genre of marine conservation: large-scale marine protected areas (LSMPAs).
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Large Scale Marine Protected Areas
When Papahānaumokuākea was first created, it was the largest marine protected area at the time. Then, less than one percent of the ocean was protected.
Today there are 19 LSMPAs (formally established or government declared), totaling more than 10.5 million km2 or nearly 3% of the global oceans. In all, if the 19 sites were put together, they would be the second largest country in the world, bigger than the United States.
Generally speaking, an LSMPA is approximately 250,000 km2 in size that is actively managed for protection across the entire geographic boundary of the site. Sustainable use is permitted provided that it is not the primary management objective for the area.
Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Commission on Protected Areas Marine LSMPA Task Force.
Learn more about Big Ocean: bigoceanmanagers.org
Marine Debris Removal
More than 900 tons of marine debris has been removed from the Monument – that’s equal to the weight of more than 1,000 Volkswagen Beetles or 300 Asian elephants!
Since 1996, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Coral Reef Ecosystem Program’s Marine Debris Project has led marine debris survey and removal efforts in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Throughout the years, this project continued with support from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration Marine Debris Program, NOAA’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program, the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.Over the past 20 years, agency staff and partners have removed a total of 848 metric tons (935 standard tons or 1.9 million lbs.) of derelict fishing gear and plastics from the shorelines and shallow coral reef environments of what is now Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Read more about marine debris removal in the Monument:
Animals Saved: Monk Seal
The endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the last surviving species of its genus – outliving its Caribbean counterpart, which was hunted to extinction, and hanging on with its Mediterranean cousin – depends on the beaches and rocky shores of Papahānaumokuākea for hauling out, resting and pupping.
Through the work of NOAA Fisheries’ staff and partners, approximately one-third of Hawaiian monk seals are alive today because they directly benefited, or are the pup or grandpup of a female that benefited, from a life-saving intervention. These interventions include disentanglement from marine debris, translocation to areas of greater safety or food, providing medical care, reuniting pups with mothers, or rehabilitation through a partnership with The Marine Mammal Center's Ke Kai Ola facility on Hawaii island.
Following at least six decades of rapid decline, recent population assessment results have been encouraging, with the population experiencing a growth rate of about 2 percent annually since 2013. There are now estimated to be around 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals, with roughly 1,100 of those seals in Papahānaumokuākea and 300 in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). This recent growth trend is primarily due to increased juvenile survival in Papahānaumokuākea and stability or growth of the six subpopulations therein. Rapid growth trends observed in the MHI subpopulation starting in the 1990s appear to have slowed or stopped, and the overall MHI population numbers have remained stable since 2013. (Data collected under MMPA/ESA permits 848-1335, 848-1696, 10137 and 16632)
Animals Saved: Nihoa Millerbird
The endangered Nihoa Millerbird is a small, lively terrestrial songbird species living exclusively within Papahānaumokuākea.
The Laysan Millerbird, along with the Laysan Rail and Laysan Honeycreeper, went extinct in the early 20th century when Laysan Island was denuded by non-native rabbits. Thus the Millerbirds remaining on Nihoa – a rugged 155 acre volcanic island – became the only Millerbirds left on Earth.
In 2011 and 2012, 50 Millerbirds were translocated 650 miles from Nihoa to Laysan Island to extend the range and changes of survival for this critically endangered species. The translocation project was the result of many years of research and detailed planning by biologists and resource managers, led by a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy.
Both populations of Nihoa Millerbirds are thriving today, with roughly 600 on Nihoa and more than 165 on Laysan Island.
Read about the Millerbird population increase »
Learn about the relocation effort »
Animals Saved: Laysan Duck
The endangered Laysan duck, is the rarest waterfowl in the Northern hemisphere and has the smallest geographic range of any duck species in the world. It once lived throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago but vanished from the main Hawaiian Islands with the arrival of rats around 800 years ago. They later disappeared from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands except for a small population that existed in isolation on Laysan Island for more than 150 years. In 1911, only 11 ducks were observed on Laysan Island.
In an effort to extend its range and changes of survival, in 2004 and 2005, a total of 42 Laysan ducks were translocated from Laysan Island to Midway Atoll Refuge in the Monument. Within a few months these ducks produced broods of ducklings at rates greater than ever recorded. In 2014, 28 ducks were translocated from Midway to neighboring Kure Atoll and are successfully breeding.
The Monument now safeguards over 707 Laysan ducks – 40 on Kure, 290 on Midway and 377 on Laysan Island.
Read about the Laysan Duck translocation »
Scientific Exploration: Discoveries
New species of fishes, octopus and algae.
13 new seamounts, some of which are over 14,000 feet in elevation – that’s more than the height of 10 Empire State Buildings!
The largest sponge in the world, comparable in size to a minivan.
The largest gorgonian coral in the world, reaching 19 feet in height.
The oldest marine organism in the world – a deep-sea black coral that can live up to 4,500 years!
Reefs with 100% unique fishes – this is the highest level of endemism from any known marine ecosystem on Earth.
Encompassing two-thirds of the most remote portion of the remotest island chain on Earth, the waters of Papahānaumokuākea have only scarcely been surveyed and represent an enormous opportunity for scientific discoveries. New findings are made on virtually every expedition to the Monument, including new species, new genuses, new habitats, new geological features, the oldest animal, the largest sponge, the largest coral, and deep coral reefs comprised entirely of endemic fishes, species found nowhere else in the world.
News about world's largest sponge »
2015 mesophotic research expedition »
News about new black coral species »
2014 mesophotic research expedition »
Scientific Exploration: Seafloor Mapped
Deep-water environments make up the vast majority of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument; more than 98% of its waters lie below 100 meters, yet its seafloor had been largely uncharted until recently. Expeditions in 2014 aboard the R/V Falkor operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute and in 2015 and 2016 aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer mapped previously unexplored areas of the Monument. Using state of-the-art seafloor sonar systems, these expeditions mapped over 166 km2 of Papahānaumokuākea’s seafloor, an area more than 10 times larger than the total land area of all of the Main Hawaiian Islands combined.
Scientists aboard these expeditions also mapped over 20 seamounts inside the Monument, none of which had been previously mapped. Seamounts are important deep-water habitats, as they harbor some of the most dense and diverse communities of deep-sea corals and sponges. In addition to creating high-resolution data for over half of the area of the Monument, the mapping efforts also revealed that the Monument is deeper than previously thought, with some areas being over 5,300 m in depth.
Learn more about mapping efforts in the Monument:
127 reported lost shipwrecks and aircraft within PMNM waters; 22 of these sites have been discovered and documented by NOAA maritime archaeologists to date, including:
- 6 World War II era shipwreck sites
- 5 World War II era sunken aircraft sites
- 5 Historic whaling shipwreck sites
- 6 sunken merchant/other vessels
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument possesses a rich maritime heritage stretching back to a time long before written records. 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.
Maritime heritage research has been instrumental in opening a window into the region’s seafaring past, and has contributed to what we know about humans’ historical interaction with the sea. These sites are not only part of an underwater environment but are intimately connected with broader maritime landscapes—heritage sites on land, in ports, and in cities that developed because of maritime trade, as well as communities that were shaped by a history of colonization.
Maritime heritage sites on PMNM’s seafloor include the material remains of American and British whaling vessels, Japanese junks, navy steamers, Hawaiian fishing sampans, Pacific colliers, salvage vessels and Navy aircraft.
Native Hawaiian: Cultural Reawakening
22 Native Hawaiian cultural activities
The Native Hawaiian community continues to utilize Papahānaumokuākea for spiritual sustenance. With the revival of the Polynesian practices of voyaging and way-finding aboard double-hulled sailing canoes, the Monument provides a training ground for apprentice navigators. The voyage from Niʻihau to Nihoa and on to Mokumanamana serves as a significant benchmark in their training. Soon after Papahānaumokuākea was established, Native Hawaiians used traditional wayfinding techniques for the first time in hundreds of years to sail to Nihoa in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on a double-hulled sailing canoe, Hōkūleʻa.
Learn more about the Monument's Native Hawaiian program »
More coming soon...
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