Summary and Findings
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (the monument) is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag, encompassing 139,792 square miles of the Pacific Ocean - an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. Thanks to their isolation and past management efforts, the reefs of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are considered to be in nearly pristine condition. Home to the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green sea turtles and high abundances of endemic species (found nowhere else on earth), the complex and highly productive marine ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are significant contributors to the biological diversity of the oceans (Friedlander et al. 2005 ). Due to the monument’s remoteness and regulations that limit access, impacts from local human uses are relatively few. However, past activities have permanently altered some areas and in some cases resulted in degradation of habitats. Also, human activities currently taking place outside the monument, such as deposition of marine debris, can result in living resource, habitat, and water quality degradation. Other concerns for the monument include climate change and coral bleaching, diseases affecting marine organisms, and marine alien species that can threaten native biodiversity and degrade habitats.
Despite past human uses such as military activities that have left behind contamination on many of the atolls, monument-wide water quality parameters suggest relatively good conditions, due primarily to the monument’s remoteness and current regulations that limit access. Habitat structure has been impacted by derelict fishing gear, marine debris and coral bleaching. However, a majority of these habitats have not been significantly affected and are in good condition. Most living resource populations in the monument appear to be in healthy condition; however, monk seals are significantly decreasing. Other significant threats include potential manifestations of global climate change such as seawater acidification, rising sea surface temperatures and rising sea levels. The monument’s draft management plan, released on April 22, 2008, recommends a number of management actions that will address these concerns.
Information regarding maritime archaeological resources is limited due to the size of the monument. However, known resources do not appear to be a threat to the environment, and there is very little human activity that may threaten the integrity of archaeological resources. The primary threat to these resources is their natural deterioration over time; little can be done to control or protect these resources from natural processes.