National Marine Sanctuary Designation for Papahānaumokuākea


Hawaiian monk seal and a giant trevally at Kure Atoll.
Hawaiian monk seal and a giant trevally at Kure Atoll. Image: James Watt/NOAA

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is initiating the process to consider designating marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

Hanohano Nā ʻĀina Kūpuna: Honoring Papahānaumokuākea as Kūpuna (Ancestral) Islands

Hanohano Nā ʻĀina Kūpuna is a tribute to Papahānaumokuākea as a sacred ancestral place to kanaka ʻōiwi (Native Hawaiians) who honor this extensive seascape as an area where all life emerged and evolved from, and to which spirits return to after death. Native Hawaiian kūpuna (esteemed elders) have strongly advocated for the long-term lasting protection of Papahānaumokuākea from the beginning and instilled the vision and values that set the course for a collective journey caring for this sacred place. Weaving together the past, present, and future, their legacy is foundational to guiding Native Hawaiian engagement in the active protection and management of Papahānaumokuākea. In moving forward with sanctuary designation, our goal is to continue to honor their legacy and vision towards ensuring the permanency of lasting protection of this place for future generations. Sanctuary designation will provide another layer of protection to continue honoring this place and will not diminish any existing protections.


View of island set against a dramatic sky.
Mokumanamana (Necker Island) is known for its numerous religious sites and artifacts. Image: Ruben Carrillo

History

There is a long history of considering this area for national marine sanctuary designation, beginning with an Executive Order in 2000 by President William J. Clinton for the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. Groundwork was laid for national marine sanctuary designation when the monument was designated in 2006 by President George W. Bush. The proclamation in 2016 by President Barack H. Obama expanding the monument called for initiating the process to designate a national marine sanctuary.


Map of PMNM showing original and expansion area boundaries.
Map of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument showing original and expansion area boundaries. Image: NOAA

In December of 2020, Congress directed NOAA to initiate the process to designate Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

Cooperation

Fish swimming along reef.
A diverse assemblage of fish on the reefs in Papahānaumokuākea. Image: Kimberly Jeffries/NOAA

The designation process will be conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State of Hawaiʻi and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This designation would build on existing management and programming in the marine portions of the monument by adding the conservation benefits and permanency of a national marine sanctuary. The co-management structure that is a hallmark of the monument will continue.

Public Comment

There will be many opportunities for public comment. Virtual public meetings will be held, co-hosted by NOAA and State of Hawaiʻi, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). See information on public comment.

Hāmama ʻia nā hālāwai lehulehu a pau i ka hāpai ʻana i ka manaʻo ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi a hoʻopaʻa kūhelu ʻia.
We welcome comments in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) at all public meetings.

Culture

A Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner sounds the pū (conch shell trumpet) to announce the arrival of the traditional voyaging canoe, Hikianalia, at Nihoa Island.
A Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner sounds the pū (conch shell trumpet) to announce the arrival of the traditional voyaging canoe, Hikianalia, at Nihoa Island. Image: Jamie Makasobe

Native Hawaiian culture is a foundational element of the management of Papahānaumokuākea, and sanctuary designation will continue to honor and perpetuate spiritual and cultural relationships with this special place.

Papahānaumokuākea is considered a sacred area, from which Native Hawaiians believe all life springs, and to which spirits return to after death. The longest recorded traditional Hawaiian chant, the Kumulipo (source of deep darkness), is the history of how all life forms came and evolved from Papahānaumokuākea, beginning with the coral polyp – the building block for all life. This genealogy of Papahānaumokuākea tells the story of Native Hawaiians’ ancestral connection with the gods who created those coral polyps, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands or Kūpuna (respected elders) Islands, and everything else in the Hawaiian archipelago, including Native Hawaiians. Throughout the expanse of the Monument, there are many wahi pana (places of great cultural significance and practice) where Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners of today reconnect with their ancestors and gods.

Historic Preservation

Maritime archaeologist investigates an anchor at the Two Brothers shipwreck site.
Maritime archaeologist Kelly Keogh investigates an anchor at the Two Brothers shipwreck site at French Frigate Shoals. Image: Tane Casserley/NOAA

The monument is also home to a variety of post-Western-contact historic resources, such as those associated with the Battle of Midway and 19th century commercial whaling. NOAA will coordinate its responsibilities under section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) during the sanctuary designation process and is soliciting public and stakeholder input to meet compliance requirements.

Designation

White tip reef shark swims along reef.
White tip reef shark at Lisianski Island. Image: Kimberly Jeffries/NOAA

Designation as a national marine sanctuary would strengthen and increase the long term protections already existing in the monument, but cannot diminish them. It would enhance existing authorities and the regulatory and enforcement framework.

Designation would also allow NOAA to apply additional regulatory and non-regulatory tools to augment and strengthen existing protections for Papahānaumokuākea ecosystems, wildlife, and cultural and maritime heritage resources. The sanctuary designation would not include any terrestrial areas or change the monument designation.

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has been a key partner and co-managing agency in the management of Papahānaumokuākea since the designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000. Many of the monument’s extensive education, outreach, and research accomplishments have been executed under the authority of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Sanctuary designation will ensure the full benefits and expertise offered by the National Marine Sanctuary System and staff.

Management Plan

The foundational framework of any sanctuary designation and future updates to the Monument Management Plan will be done in coordination to ensure consistency of protections.

Diver cuts a large derelict fishing net off the reef as divers haul it into the small boat at Kure Atoll.
Illustration of Future Monument Management Plan (MMP) to Include Sanctuary. Image: NOAA

Plan content generated for the sanctuary will be incorporated into a future joint Monument Management Plan, along with significant content carried over from the 2008 Management plan and other documents including National Wildlife Refuge plans, the PMNM Climate Change Vulnerability Report, the Mai Ka Pō Mai guidance document, and other relevant documents.