North America

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument of Hawaii

The coral islands that form this national marine environment stand for the natural, cultural and historic aspects that we value. It is the size of Germany and slightly bigger than the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Heritage and spiritual site:

A UNESCO world heritage site recognized world wide for its natural and cultural values. For the native culture of Hawaii the islands are an ancestral territory as an embodiment of the relationship between the natural world and the people. For them the region has traditional and deep cosmological significance as a place where life begins and where the spirits come back to after the demise of the physical body.

On two of the islands of the archipelago, Makumanamana and Nihoa, archaeological remains were found which date back to pre European times of use and settlement. The national monument comprises of magnificent lagoons and extensive coral reefs. Main features include deep water regions situated here such as submerged banks and seamounts. Thanks to the efforts of preservation it is one of the biggest protected marine areas.

In the year 2006 President George W Bush established the title of national monument on the string of the mostly uninhabited atolls (small coral island), islands and the reefs lying to the northwest of Hawaii now known as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The protection required by the now national monument was described by the then president as a big deal.
The need for protection:

The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument lies 160 miles to the northwest of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It extends a massive thousand two hundred miles into Pacific Ocean. The beast of a wonder on its size alone can be described of being of mammoth importance as it spans 140,000 square miles of the Ocean.

It is larger than all the National Parks in America combined making it one of the hugest protected areas on the entire planet. Sylvia Earle who is a marine biologist herself describes the natural phenomenon as the biggest portion of the coral reefs on the planet, a huge sweep of the ocean where the fishes are now safe.

Historical events found solid ground in these Hawaiian Islands. The Archipelago (group of islands) had a pivotal role to play in the naval history of the United States. In 1942 near to the Midway Atoll the Battle of Midway took place. The famous Pan Am Clipper which was a flying boat in the 1930s hop scotched from San Francisco to China across the mighty Pacific.

The chain of islands is home to an approximate sixty five residents. The monument used to be a faint blip on the worldwide tourist radar. The islands are inaccessible by the means of a commercial air flight since a tourist program in the year 2002 which was short lived. Nowadays cruise ships set sail for the wondrous experience which awaits here. The islands play host to an annual visitor count of five hundred to a thousand tourists and enthusiasts.
The indigenous animals:

The human almost negligible presence here has allowed the animal kingdom here to flourish in leaps and bounds. Dubbed as the American Galapagos the islands are teeming with life forms. One can sight huge gatherings of the Laysan albatrosses which are nicknamed the gooney birds for the funny landings they make and their comical mating rituals. The Hawaiian monk seal which is an endangered species is found here.

The spinner dolphins frequent the string of coral reefs and the beloved green sea turtles of Hawaii put in an occasional appearance. The island provides shelter to a stunning seven thousand species of terrestrial and marine life. A quarter of the types of species are indigenous to the islands.

The new protection due to the national monument status of the region brings in rules which have enforced a phase period of five years for the likes of sport fishing and any commercial fishing in the region. There still remains the threat to the delicate ecology here from the trash being washed on shore due to the ocean currents. Cigarette lighters, soda bottles and drift nets amongst others get deposited here.

Marine biologists are up in arms as they argue that only a percent of the ocean has any protection right now in the present. But they remain positive that the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is a great beginning for something on the lines of the national parks on the land.