NOAA Fisheries has announced the initiation of a process to consider designating marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary.
This designation would build on existing management by adding conservation benefits and enhanced long-term protection of a national marine sanctuary.
NOAA was directed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Report for FY 2021 to initiate the work on the national monument to supplement and complement, rather than supplant existing authorities.
Stakeholders and partners, including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Advisory Council and the state of Hawaii support the current sanctuary designation process.
NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said that Papahānaumokuākea’s ecosystems are increasingly under pressure from threats such as marine debris, invasive species and climate change.
“Designation of the monument’s waters as a national marine sanctuary would complement the efforts of the four co-trustees to safeguard the monument’s natural, cultural and historic values,” he said.
The monument is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag. It encompasses 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, an area larger than all of the country’s national parks combined. It is home to the endangered Hawaiian monk sea, threatened green turtles, extensive coral reef habitat and many species found nowhere else on Earth. The complex and highly productive marine ecosystems of the monument are significant contributors to the biological diversity of the ocean, according to NOAA officials.
The monument is of great importance to Native Hawaiians, as it includes many wahi pana (places of great cultural significance and practice) where Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners today reconnect with their ancestors and gods. The monument is also home to many post-Western-contact historic resources, such as those associated with the Battle of Midway during World War Two and 19th century commercial whaling.
A sanctuary designation would allow NOAA to apply additional regulatory and non-regulatory tools to augment and strengthen existing protections for Papahānaumokuākea ecosystems, wildlife and cultural and maritime heritage resources.
NOAA is accepting public comment on its proposal through Jan.31, 2022. More information on how to comment is online at https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/papahanaumokuakea/