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US creates world’s largest marine reserve off Hawaii

  • The monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including endangered sea turtles, whales, Hawaiian monk seals, Laysan albatross, Pritchardia palms, and several recently discovered species.
  • While non-commercial fishing is allowed in the monument region by permit, commercial fishing and future mineral extraction activities are banned within the expansion area, the White House said.
  • The expansion of Papahānaumokuākea is in response to proposals put forward by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and other native Hawaiian leaders earlier this year.

Last week, President Barack Obama of the United States of America announced the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve off Hawaii.

Obama expanded the size of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by 442,781 square miles, creating a total protected area of 582,578 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers). The monument was originally established by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monument is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including endangered sea turtles, whales, Hawaiian monk seals, Laysan albatross, Pritchardia palms, and several newly discovered species. A quarter of the species occurring in the monument area are found nowhere else on earth.

The expanded monument area is also rich in coral reefs and contains some of the world’s oldest species, such as more than 4,000-years-old black corals. Moreover, the region has great historical and cultural significance, the White House said in a statement.

“The expanded area, including the archipelago and its adjacent waters, is considered a sacred place for the Native Hawaiian community,” the statement notes. “It plays a significant role in Native Hawaiian creation and settlement stories, and is used to practice important activities like traditional long-distance voyaging and wayfinding. Additionally, within the monument expansion area, there are shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in World War II, a battle that marked a major shift in the progress of the war in favor of the Allies.”

Map of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Map provided by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Public Domain.

Non-commercial fishing will be allowed in the monument region by permit. But all commercial fishing and future mineral extraction activities are banned within the expansion area, the statement added.

The expansion of Papahānaumokuākea is in response to proposals put forward by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and other native Hawaiian leaders earlier this year.

“Papahānaumokuākea is critically important to Native Hawaiian culture—it is our ancestral place, the birthplace of all life,” Sol Kahoʻohalahala, a seventh-generation Hawaiian from the island of Lanai and a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group, said in a statement. “The expanded monument will serve as a conservation, climate, and cultural refuge for my granddaughter and future generations.”

Senator Schatz (Democrat of Hawaii) added: “Expanding Papahānaumokuākea makes a definitive statement about Hawaii’s and the United States’ commitment to ocean conservation.”

Last week, President Obama also announced the creation of a new federal parkland in Maine.

A school of chub (Kyphosus sp.). Hawaii, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Photo by Claire Fackler, CINMS, NOAA.
The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is home to endangered species such as the green sea turtle. Photo by Brocken Inaglory, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.