While you might imagine a marine national monument to be a statue or large structure built in the sea to signify a country or continent’s culture, this one couldn’t be further than the truth. The Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument is, in fact, an entirely natural structure existing in the ocean at the site of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It’s not just the islands and coral reefs that are included within the National Monument either; there are 360 thousand kilometers squared of water surrounding them, which are home to many different species of fish, birds and mammals.
Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a constantly evolving, natural structure comprising ten islands, several coral reefs and atolls, many of which provide a habitat for fish, marine life, birds and mammals and it is the largest protected area of the ocean on earth. In fact, it’s larger than all of the USA’s national parks put together. Just some of the endangered species living there include the green sea turtle, Nihoa finches, Laysan finches and the Hawaiian monk seal. The site was first known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, when US president George Bush named it in 2006, but then just one year on it was commissioned that it should be renamed the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Before this, it first became a protected site in 1909 when Theodore Roosevelt, the US president at the time, investigated the over-harvesting of some species of birds living there, and ordered that conservation should start.
The Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument was formed over the past few thousands of years, when rocks were swept out to sea, or formed in the ocean by volcanic activity, and coral reefs began to grow on them, as well as vegetation and wildlife upon the islands and atolls there. The monument itself is an entirely natural structure, formed by the earth alone, but now protected and maintained by man.
In the past there have been a few events that have caused the species living around the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument to go into decline. Most notably has been the lobster fishing that went on during 1980 to 1990. This has now been banned, and to conserve the islands and reefs there has been a total fishing ban commissioned for 2011. The other significant event that affected the species inhabiting this area was the marine ecosystem shift that happened during the same two decades. This may have also come as a result of the extensive lobster fishing, but now that UNESCO has named it as one of its sites, and is working to protect it, we can hope that the wildlife will recover again.
How to Get There:
While there is an emergency landing strip on the Midway atoll, commercial flights cannot be taken there. As a result, the best option for visiting the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument is to fly to Hawaii’s airport (Honolulu International – HNL) and travel nearer to the monument from there.
Unfortunately, it’s only possible to visit the Midway atoll of Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument just as a tourist. The area is highly protected and conserved, and visitors need to have an approved permit for education, research, special ocean use, conservation and management, Native Hawaiian practice or recreation only on Midway atoll.
Where to Stay:
If you manage to obtain a permit to visit Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument, then you’ll want to find accommodation in Hawaii; perhaps in Honolulu.
For a luxury option, try Ilikai Hotel & Suites where rooms start at around $130 and go right up to $500 per night. This hotel includes a gym, top quality restaurant, beauty salon and outdoor swimming pool amongst other features.
If your budget is a bit lower, then you could try Ohana Waikiki East on Kaiulani Avenue, where rooms start at around $95 per night. This hotel also includes a swimming pool, business center and a gym.