General Challenges to Conservation in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Development Pressures

Over 586 tons of marine debris have been removed over the last 10 yearsThere are no development pressures affecting the property, nor are any anticipated in the future. The site’s remoteness, along with stringent conservation laws and robust management practices ensure that development pressures are not a factor in the property’s future. Presidential Proclamation 8031 specifically forbids activities such as mining or other extractive practices. In addition, with very limited exceptions, the federal regulations for Papahānaumokuākea prohibit anyone from removing, moving, taking, harvesting, possessing, injuring, disturbing or damaging any of its living or nonliving resources, or attempting any of these actions unless authorized by a Monument permit. Modification of existing facilities (e.g., on Midway’s Sand Island or Tern Island in French Frigate Shoals) occurs in strict compliance with refuge laws and regulations, applicable historic regulations, and National Environmental Policy Act requirements. The natural, cultural and historic resources of the property are well protected. All improvements planned for Midway Atoll in the Midway Atoll Conceptual Site Plan will be made in existing structures or built on the footprints of existing structures. Any designs for new structures will utilize new sustainable technologies to set an environmentally responsible development standard regarding the inhabited areas of Papahānaumokuākea. Additionally, within the Monument Management Plan outlines are presented for further support of field camps at French Frigate Shoals and Kure Atoll to aid in the monitoring of seabirds, sea turtles and monk seals.

Marine Debris

The major form of marine pollution both inside and outside of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument boundaries is marine debris. As with many marine ecosystems around the world, marine debris is a constant threat to certain components of the ecosystems of Papahānaumokuākea (Selkoe et al. 2008). Although no commercial or recreational fishing is permitted in Papahānaumokuākea’s waters, derelict fishing nets and gear, plastics and other ocean-borne debris are concentrated by ocean currents and wash up on the reefs and beaches of the property. Entanglement in marine debris has been identified as a major threat to the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal; debris entanglement also threatens sea turtles, seabirds, cetaceans and coral reef organisms. An ongoing multi-agency marine debris clean-up program has removed more than 586 tons of debris from the property in the past ten years. Fishing elsewhere in the Pacific has the potential to harm Papahānaumokuākea’s highly migratory marine species, such as tuna, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals that may otherwise forage or travel outside of the Papahānaumokuākea’s protective boundaries. Birds are also harmed by debris. Smaller types of marine debris made of plastic, such as disposable lighters, bottle caps, and other fragments, are ingested by adult albatrosses, shearwaters, and other seabirds when they feed at sea (Fry et al. 1987). These objects are subsequently fed to chicks and can cause direct and indirect injuries, often resulting in the death of young albatrosses. Additionally, this debris may increase the birds’ exposure to and ingestion of organochlorine contaminants from plastic surfaces (Carpenter and Smith 1972).

Terrestrial Pollution

Past uses have contributed to significant modification and contamination throughout the region, especially at French Frigate Shoals, Midway Atoll, and Kure Atoll. Contamination at all these sites includes offshore and onshore contaminated debris such as batteries (lead and mercury), transformers with PCBs, capacitors and barrels. Debris washing ashore is another source of contamination on the islands. Studies have shown that soil can constitute up to 30% of the material a bird consumes, and hence soil contamination from the above substances is a substantial threat to the bird populations (Hui and Beyer 1998; Beyer et al. 1994). Lead-based paints on the former naval buildings at Midway can affect nearby albatross chicks; chicks that ingest paint chips have been found to have blood lead concentrations that cause immunological, neurological, and renal impairments, significantly decreasing their chances of survival. A significant effort is underway to remove the lead paint and to monitor the contaminated sites. Uncharacterized, unlined landfills remain on some of these islands. Kure Atoll and French Frigate Shoals both have point sources of PCBs due to former U.S. Coast Guard LORAN stations. While the Coast Guard has mounted cleanup actions at both sites, elevated levels of contamination remain in island soils, nearshore sediment, and biota. Additional continued landfills were left behind by the Navy on Midway Atoll. In response to these threats, emergency response mechanisms and ongoing cleanup and restoration activities will be maintained and enhanced.

Alien Species

The waters surrounding Papahānaumokuākea are nearly pristine. A total of 11 marine alien fish, invertebrates and algal species have been recorded in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Alien species may be introduced accidentally, such as with vessel discharge, marine debris, or aquaculture, or intentionally, as in the case of a few species of snappers, grouper and algal species. The magnitude of the problem of marine invasive species is far greater in the main Hawaiian Islands than the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Efforts to control the accelerated introduction of alien species in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands focus on transport mechanisms, such as marine debris, ships’ hulls, and the discharge of bilge water from vessels originating from the main Hawaiian Islands and other ports. Existing Monument regulations and permitting requirements greatly reduce the chance of new introductions. However, several of the islands and atolls of Papahānaumokuākea have been, in the past, heavily inundated by terrestrial alien species. Both Midway Atoll and Laysan Island have incurred multiple introductions, many of which transformed the landscapes. Some of the most invasive introductions were intentional, such as vegetation, rats, and rabbits that caused extensive damage. To date, rats and rabbits have been successfully exterminated in Papahānaumokuākea, but various other alien species still plague the inhabited islands and atolls. The number of alien land plants in Papahānaumokuākea varies from only three introduced at Nihoa, to 249 introduced at Midway Atoll. Numerous efforts have been made to eradicate and restore the emergent lands to their native conditions, particularly at Laysan Island and Midway Atoll. Other management and restoration efforts are undertaken annually during the late spring through mid-fall field season. To prevent further importation of invasive plants, animals or insects, mandatory quarantine protocols are enforced for any visitors to all the islands of Papahānaumokuākea, with the exception of Midway Atoll and French Frigate Shoals. These protocols require the use of new or island specific gear at each site and treatments such as cleaning, using insecticide, and freezing to minimize the transport of potential invasive species to the islands.