National marine sanctuary designation for Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is initiating the process to consider designating marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary. This designation would add the conservation benefits and permanency of a national marine sanctuary to safeguard resources in the marine portions of the monument. Public comment will be accepted on the proposal through Jan. 31, 2022.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully-protected conservation area under the U.S. flag, encompassing an area of 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean -- an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. Home to the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green turtles, 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.

There is a long history of considering this area for national marine sanctuary designation, beginning with an Executive Order in 2000 by President William J. Clinton. President George W. Bush designated the monument in 2006 based in part on the sanctuary designation process that was already underway. President Barack H. Obama's proclamation in 2016 that expanded the monument also called for initiating the process to designate a national marine sanctuary. In December 2020, Congress directed NOAA to initiate the sanctuary designation process.

Rare fish species at Kure Atoll
Rare species at a depth of 300 feet at Kure Atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo: NOAA/Richard Pyle-Bishop Museum

Papahānaumokuākea is of great importance to Native Hawaiians, and Hawaiian culture is a foundational element in the management of Papahānaumokuākea. The monument is also home to a variety of post-Western-contact historic resources, such as those associated with the Battle of Midway and 19th century commercial whaling.

silhouette of necker island
Mokumanamana (Necker Island) is known for its numerous religious sites and artifacts. Photo: Ruben Carrillo

The sanctuary designation process does not change the area's status as a marine national monument. It would add the protections of a national marine sanctuary to the monument's waters. The co-management structure that is a hallmark of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument will continue, and the process to designate a national marine sanctuary will be conducted in concert with the monument's co-managing agencies.

The day-to-day management of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is directed by a seven-member management board, including NOAA (Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Fisheries); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Ecological Services, Refuges); State of Hawaiʻi (Division of Aquatic Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife) and Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

diver investigates a jar on a shipwreck
NOAA maritime archaeologists located the wreck of the Two Brothers, lost in 1823. Photo: NOAA

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has been a key partner and co-managing agency in the management of Papahānaumokuākea since the designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000. Many of the monument's extensive education, outreach, and research accomplishments have been executed under the authority of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Sanctuary designation will ensure the full benefits and expertise offered by the National Marine Sanctuary System and staff.

school of galapagos sharks swimming
A school of galapagos sharks/manō at Maro Reef. Photo: Photo: James Watt/NOAA

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Map

map Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument including both the orginal and expanded boundries
This map of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument includes both the original and expanded boundaries. Proposed national marine sanctuary designation would only consider marine waters of the monument, and not terrestrial areas. Image: NOAA

How to Comment

NOAA is inviting the public to comment on the range of issues to be considered for the designation of a national marine sanctuary, including potential boundaries; impacts on historic properties; resources that would be protected by a sanctuary; and the potential socioeconomic, cultural, and biological impacts of sanctuary designation. The information the agency receives during the comment period will be used to develop draft designation documents including a draft sanctuary management plan, proposed sanctuary regulations, and terms of designation. 

The public can comment on the proposal until Jan. 31, 2022, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, The docket number is- NOAA-NOS-2021-0114.

Comments may also be mailed if postmarked by Jan. 31, 2022. Comments should be addressed to:

PMNM-Sanctuary Designation
1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg 176
Honolulu, HI 96818

Virtual Public Meetings

NOAA also will host virtual meetings on the dates and times specified to answer questions and gather public input. Individuals who plan on attending the public meetings to give oral comments and any other interested parties must register in advance of the meeting using the registration links below.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021, 6 p.m. HST

Register at

Saturday, December 11, 2021, Noon (12 p.m.) HST

Register at

Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 6 p.m. HST

Register at

Thursday, December 16, 2021, 3 p.m. HST

Register at

Hāmama ʻia nā hālāwai lehulehu a pau i ka hāpai ʻana i ka manaʻo ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi a hoʻopaʻa kūhelu ʻia. We welcome comments in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) at all public meetings.

For more information, contact:

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.

national marine sanctuary system map