Oceans and seas

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument

Source: NMS
Content Cover Image

Colorful reef fish school in great numbers at Rapture Reef, French Frigate Shoals. (Photo by James Watt via http://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/imagery/photos.html)

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag, and the largest marine conservation area in the world. It encompasses 137,792 square miles of the Pacific Ocean – an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. If they were laid atop the continental United States, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) would cover a distance equal to that between New York City and Omaha, or Boston and the Florida Everglades.

The NWHI coral reefs are the foundation of an ecosystem that hosts more than 7,000 species, including marine mammals, fishes, sea turtles, birds, and invertebrates. Many are rare, threatened, or endangered. At least one quarter are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. Many more remain unidentified or even unknown to science. Many of the islands and shallow water environments are important habitats for rare species such as the threatened green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. These reefs are some of the healthiest and least disturbed coral reefs remaining and comprise possibly the last large-scale, predator-dominated coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

caption The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is one of the most critically endangered marine mammals in the United States. (Photo: NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NOAA)

The NWHI are also of great cultural importance to Native Hawaiians with significant cultural sites found on the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana. In Hawaiian traditions, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are considered a sacred place, a region of primordial darkness from which life springs and spirits return after death.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was created by Presidential proclamation on June 15, 2006.


Further Reading

  • The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument's Web site


    Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the National Marine Sanctuary. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the National Marine Sanctuary should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



Sanctuaries, N. (2014). Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbee8b7896bb431f6989be


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