Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

The United States has expanded the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, also known as Papahānaumokuākea, to 1.5 million square kilometres. President Barack Obama made the announcement on 16 August 2016.

Oak Foundation joins its partner Pew Charitable Trusts, its project the Global Ocean Legacy and a host of other organisations supported through the Oceans 5 marine funder collaborative, in praising the announcement. “This is great news and a wonderful legacy to leave future generations.” says Anne Henshaw, Programme Officer for Oak’s Environment Programme. “It represents the culmination of the work of many in the ocean conservation community and we are grateful that President Obama took such bold action to protect the oceans.”

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world – 1.5 million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean dotted with atolls, shoals and the rarely-visited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Papahānaumokuākea’s extensive coral reefs are home to more than 7,000 marine species, including the threatened green turtle and the Hawaiian monk seal.

The conservation area was established by the US Government in 2006 under the George W. Bush adminstration to protect ecosystems and wildlife, and has now been expanded to an area four times the size of California.

The waters of Papahānaumokuākea are still being explored and continue to yield strange and wonderful discoveries. Within the new boundaries, scientists have found the world's oldest known living organism – a deep-water black coral estimated to be 4,265 years old, as well as a new type octopus with ghostlike features, and three new species of fish. Other inhabitants include 22 species of birds – four that are found nowhere else. The world’s most endangered duck, the Laysan duck, makes its home in the shallow waters of the conservation area. In addition, ancient archeological sites found on some of the islands are of great cultural and religious significance to native Hawaiians.

Papahānaumokuākea’s example has inspired more than a dozen large-scale marine reserves around the globe, including areas in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Chile and Palau. Experts say protecting the world’s ocean is critical to maintaining biodiversity and the myriad life-supporting benefits of the seas. Because of their cultural and biological significance, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

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© Mark Sullivan NMFS Permit 10137-07/NOAA