History was made in 2016 when President Barack Obama announced the four-fold expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine protected area in the Northern Hemisphere. Papahanaumokuakea protects one of the last pristine ocean environments in the world, preserves Native Hawaiian traditions for future generations and safeguards the remains of those lost during World War II’s Battle of Midway.
Its extensive coral reefs are home to over 7000 marine species, some found nowhere else in the world. Monument residents include endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, 14 million seabirds, sharks, billfish, tuna and four species of duck unique to the region.
The destination’s role in maritime and cultural heritage is equally significant. With the highest density of sacred sites in the archipelago, it is closely tied to the Hawaiian peoples’ history. Within the boundaries are more than 60 known shipwreck sites spanning centuries as well as Midway Atoll, where the US forces irreparably damaged the Japanese fleet in the famous WWII battle.
Papahanaumokuakea is an active center of science, with work attracting global attention. Its program mapping historically-inaccessible deep-water seafloors with multibeam sonar and submersibles is documenting rarely-seen biological resources and topographical features. The coral reef research program focuses on habitat characterization; reef surveys have recorded the diversity and abundance of fishes, algae, corals and invertebrates throughout the archipelago. The combined shallow and deep-water research informs management plans for the unprecedented space.
The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo which offers exhibits, interactive displays, visuals and models for all ages. Additionally, the Foundation funds a K-12 program building awareness about the rescue efforts for endangered monk seals and a campaign to raise awareness of the impact of marine debris on the Hawaiian ecosystem.
Related Links :Papahānaumokuākea MNM Website
“Most people aren’t aware that our site has the highest concentration of archaeological sites in Hawaiʻi, even though it represents less than 1 percent of the total landmass that spans nearly ¾ of the entire archipelago. A number of the sites date to 1300 AD and the majority are religious ceremonial structures or agricultural terraces, with several habitation sites. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands represents the origins of Hawaiian cosmology and is a sacred place to which ancestors return after death. Most people are also not aware that our site has a Native Hawaiian Program that coordinates and implements the strategies and activities related to Native Hawaiian cultural access, research, education, partnerships and the overall integration of traditional Hawaiian values and concepts into the management of Papahānaumokuākea.”