Marine Sanctuary Proposed for Hawai’i’s Globally Significant Marine Monument

School of sea chub in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

One of the things I talked with Joel R. Johnson, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, during our recent Waterside Chat was the potential for a national marine sanctuary in the marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. On February 29, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released for public comment draft designation documents proposing a national marine sanctuary in these same waters.

Here’s what Joel had to say about NOAA’s announcement:

Papahānaumokuākea is a crown jewel of our ocean recognized by UNESCO for its cultural and natural wonders. Uniquely meaningful and sacred to Native Hawaiian culture, it’s also incredibly rich in biodiversity. Even as a marine monument, Papahānaumokuākea’s ecosystem and its biodiversity are under threat from marine debris and a changing climate. That’s why it deserves the utmost protection our laws can provide.

National marine sanctuaries are our best tool to highly-protect places such as Papahānaumokuākea. Sanctuary status offers a durable layer of protection that goes beyond that of national monuments, thanks to the comprehensive sanctuary designation and inclusive management of Native Hawaiians. As a national marine sanctuary, we can be assured that Papahānaumokuākea will remain a place that inspires the world and is a lasting source of solutions against the climate change and biodiversity loss.

We fully support the designation of Papahānaumokuākea as a national marine sanctuary to safeguard its wonders for the people and wildlife who depend on it, and we thank NOAA and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for committing to its protection.

NOAA will host a virtual public meeting on April 6, 2024 from 9 a.m.–12 p.m. HST. There will be additional public meetings in Hawai’i. Comments can be made in both English and Hawaiian (‘Ōlelo Hawai’i). Comments are open until May 7, 2024. Information is available in the Federal Register notice.

Map of the proposed marine sanctuary in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Map of the proposed marine sanctuary in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

According to NOAA, the proposed sanctuary is approximately 582,250 square miles and overlaps the marine portions of the monument. If approved, NOAA would co-manage the proposed sanctuary with the State of Hawai’i, the Monument co-trustees, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Papahānaumokuākea is named to honor Papahānaumoku and Wākea, who are revered in Hawaiian culture. Management of the proposed sanctuary reflects the significance of Hawaiian culture and its importance to sustainable protections for ecosystems, wildlife, and maritime heritage.

Papahānaumokuākea has unique environmental resources providing important ecosystem services and biodiversity for the region and the world, including coral islands, mesophotic reefs (reefs occurring in low light conditions) with extensive algal beds, pelagic (open ocean) waters, abyssal plains 16,400 feet below sea level, and deep reef seamounts, banks, and shoals.

You learn more and can keep up with the latest information by going to the Proposed Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Sanctuary website.

About Tom Sadler

Tom Sadler is the Network's deputy director. He has an extensive background in advocacy and journalism and a passion for oceans and fly-fishing. 

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