UPDATED: US Creates World’s Largest Marine Protected Area

Expansion of Papahānaumokuākea

History was made today when President Obama announced the expansion of the boundaries of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the North Pacific Ocean to 582,578 square miles, making it the largest marine protected area in the world.

President Obama’s landmark decision is a capstone in his blue legacy. This action protects one of the last pristine ocean environments in the world and preserves Native Hawaiian cultural traditions for future generations. The site, part of the National Marine Sanctuary System since 2006 and providing critical habitats for over 7000 species, now expands four-fold in size.

“The expansion of Papahānaumokuākea is a game-changer in our nation’s commitment to ensuring a healthy ocean and the critical role of the National Marine Sanctuary System,” said Robert Trainor, Chair of NMSF Board of Trustees, on behalf of the organization. “Previous expansions throughout the system have opened up greater opportunities for science, protection, heritage, knowledge and economic benefits to local communities. We applaud President Obama for this announcement and the Foundation is committed to supporting the endless potential that lies ahead for Papahānaumokuākea.”

NMSF also thanks Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) who championed the expansion of the monument and played a key role in engaging the Administration with Hawai’i constituents and leaders in the process.

Nearly 60% of national marine sanctuaries have been expanded since their creation and additional proposals are in consideration. Expansions increase cutting-edge research, monitoring and conservation activities; bolster discovery and preservation of artifacts and extend protection of marine life. Expanded sanctuaries also mean broader reach for education initiatives and public awareness.

For Papahānaumokuākea, expansion holds many opportunities. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Papahānaumokuākea is a dynamic destination for research, science, conservation, heritage and education. The expanded area includes waters in the most remote portion of the remotest island chain on earth – potential for discovery of new species, habitats and geological features. It also promises greater protections and more effective coordination and promotion of sustainable activities. (More information about Papahānaumokuākea follows.)

During the next months, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and other co-trustees will work with the local community to assess needs for extending science, conservation, and education programs into the expanded area.

NMSF is committed to providing Papahānaumokuākea with the resources, funding and partnerships to maximize these new responsibilities and opportunities. As the leading advocate for the sanctuary system and its national charitable partner, NMSF will be working with regional and national groups, philanthropic interests, Administration officials and Congress to secure the support Papahānaumokuākea needs to pursue these opportunities.




About Papahānaumokuākea:

  • Home to marine life including some species found nowhere else on earth. Residents include endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, billfish and tuna.
  • With the highest density of sacred sites in the Hawaiian Archipelago, it has spiritual, historic and cultural significance in the story of creation of the Hawaiian peoples and the islands themselves.
  • It’s the resting place of centuries of maritime heritage including the military remains of the World War II Battle of Midway.
  • From mapping historically-inaccessible deep-water seafloors to conservation protecting near-extinct species to defining management of large scale marine protected areas, Papahānaumokuākea is a vibrant center of science learning, informing the world.
  • Despite its remote location, it educates the general public. With support from NMSF, NOAA’s free Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo has exhibits, interactive displays, visuals and models, to encourage learning for all ages.


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