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The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest protected areas in the world and includes ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Access is limited, and it is still recovering from overfishing, but there are many other superb places in the world to dive with marine life.

It is based around one of the Northern Pacific's most isolated island archipelagos. The islands here are tiny, being mostly craggy basaltic islets and low coral atolls. It is a refuge for a number of endangered and endemic species. While it is technically possible to visit the monument, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is arguably more stunning and much more accessible.

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Size And Importance Of Papahānaumokuākea

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was first established in 2006 and then greatly expanded in 2016 by moving its border all the way to the limit of the exclusive economic zone. It is around 20% smaller than the state of Alaska and almost doubles that of Texas. It is larger than all the other American national parks combined. It is only a little larger than Australia's spectacular Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

  • Size: 583,000 square miles (1,510,000 km2)
  • Designated: World Heritage Site Since 2010

Use by Native Hawaiians for traditional practices is permitted, as is limited tourism.

It was likely first visited by Polynesian explorers around 300 AD as part of the great migration and expansion of Polynesian peoples. The area has deep traditional significance to Native Hawaiian culture. On the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana, there are archeological remains of pre-European settlements.

It is managed by NOVAA.

  • Mokumanamana: Has The Highest Density of Sacred Hawaiian Sites

The area is also home to a number of shipwrecks and 67 crashed naval aircraft - most of these were lost in the Battle of Midway during the War in the Pacific.

  • Claimed: The US Claimed Possession In 1867

Related: Kaanapali Beach, Maui: Charming Waters And Luxurious Hotels

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Marine Habitat

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is made up of pelagic and deepwater habitats. It features seamounts, lagoons, coral reefs, and submerged banks. Papahānaumokuākea is teeming with life-supporting 7,000 species. It is also home to most of the world's (sadly dwindling) population of Hawaiian monk seals. Some of the most notable species include the:

  • The Hawksbill Sea Turtle
  • The Green Sea Turtle
  • The Hawaiian Monk Seal
  • The Laysan Albatross
  • Giant Ulua (Blue Trevally)
  • Swarms Of Sharks

There are also a number of bird species. The fisheries and lobsters were overfished in these waters, and now fishing for lobsters is banned. Commercial fishing ended in 2011, and now the monument enjoys strict conservation protection. The fish are recovering from the over-exploitation of the 1980s and early 1990s.

  • Fishing: Prohibited
  • Fish Stocks: Recovering From Over Exploitation

Despite this, it is one of the world's last best examples of a healthy marine ecosystem, according to the National Park Service.

Related: Japan's Truk Lagoon is Home To An Extraordinary Number Of Wartime Wrecks, Still Visible Today

Visiting Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Access to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument has limited tourism access. Visitors are required to get a permit to visit, and the permitting program is designed to minimize human impact.

  • Permit: Required For Access

One of the places where it was possible to visit the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (that's a part of the larger marine monument). However, due to current reductions in refuge staff, access is no longer permitted. At the moment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is considering visitation options - so hopefully, it will be possible again in the future.

  • Access To Midway Atoll: Currently Not Permitted

There are other ways to learn about Papahānaumokuākea. There are museums and aquariums in Hawaii where one can learn about the monument.

The Mokupāpapa Discovery Center:

The Mokupāpapa Discovery Center is managed by NOAA and interprets the history, nature, and culture of the monument. It is free and open to the public. One will find a salt-water aquarium, three-dimensional models, an immersive theater, and more.

  • Entry Fee: None

Waikīkī Aquarium:

Another exhibit of the region can be found at the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu. See the angelfish, corals, and other marine life found in the monument.

Other places to explore include the Bishop Museum and the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The official website for the monument also suggests visiting similar marine parks and refugees in Hawaii instead to get a sense of what the monument is like.