Hawaii October 04, 2016
The World’s Largest Protected Marine Area Is Right Here In Hawaii And It’s Breathtaking
The Hawaiian Islands consist of eight major islands and more than 120 smaller, uninhabited islands, atolls, islets, and underwater seamounts, extending more than 1,500 miles from Hawaii Island in the south to the Kure Atoll. It is not only the most isolated population center on earth but also home to the largest protected marine area in the world – the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
It wasn’t until August that the conservation area’s coverage was quadrupled - from 139,797 square miles to 528,578 square miles - by way of a declaration by President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii and has protected more public acres than any other United States president.
Papahanaumokuakea, which was established in 2006 by President George W. Bush, was larger than all of America’s national parks combined even before the expansion. But now, the expanded monument will be almost four times the size of California, twice the size of Texas, and nearly as large as Alaska.
The monument is meant to protect more than 7,000 marine species, including federally-protected monk seals, sea turtles, whales, and black coral - the longest-living marine species on earth. A quarter of these species are only found in the reefs surrounding the Hawaiian Islands.
In addition to being home to a variety of marine life, Papahanaumokuakea contains resources of vast cultural and historical significance. According to a press release from the White House, “The expanded area, including the archipelago and its adjacent waters, is considered a sacred place for the Native Hawaiian community. 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.
The monument is also home to shipwrecks and downed aircraft from World War II’s Battle of Midway, a crucial battle that marked a major shift in the progress of the war.
The expansion is meant to make the area more adaptable to threats related to climate change, including warming ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, and acidification. The expansion also extends the ban on commercial fishing from 50 miles to 200 miles surrounding the remote islands.
Democratic Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz introduced the proposal in June, and called Obama’s approval one of the most important actions taken by a U.S. president to protect the ocean’s health.
Papahanaumokuakea’s expansion will undoubtedly replenish stocks of ‘ahi, fight climate change, and promote biodiversity, as well as giving a greater voice to Native Hawaiians in managing this vast resource.
This expansion is a huge win for Hawaii – and environmental conservation across the world. Not to mention, the waters of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument are simply breathtaking.