Papahānaumokuākea is a remote protected area in the Pacific that is important for its island hotspot volcanism and its role in the beliefs of the Native Hawai’ian population.
The area encompasses 140,000 square miles (360,000 km2) of ocean waters and ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The multitude of habitats and its isolation have led to high levels of endemism notably among coral and fish species. It is also the habitat of the critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. Significant Native Hawaiian cultural sites such as heiau shrines are found on the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana and can be placed within the wider Pacific/Polynesian tradition. There are also locations of historic shipwreck sites.
Community Perspective: the site is essentially closed to tourists, only Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge has been accessible in the past (until 2012) via a special visitor program as described by Zoë.
Map of PapahanaumokuakeaLoad map
I wasn’t sure I had been to this place until I opened up the map on the UNESCO website with a great overview of islands. It also all made sense: the Midway Atoll is the only accessible place of the entire monument. This is not Hawaii but instead Unincorporated Territory.
Over the years the area has become more and more restricted and I am unsure if there are still tours now. The Battle of Midway tour every June only holds 19 passengers. The cruise liners used to stop here, Carnival was mine back in 2009, but only a handful of people were going on the tender boats due to limited space (and I later found out each tender boat has to be specifically cleaned and equipped for entering the park area which cost a lot of money.
The tour group are all under guidance of a local ranger and you cart around in golf carts. The main attractions are the Hawaiian monk seal (yeah we are not in Hawaii but those seals don’t care), birds and WW2 gun emplacements plus old buildings.
Unfortunately there is no allowance for scuba diving and the snorkeling limits the view of the underwater life so much. There may be plans for this one day. So all in all the restrictions by the park means I can’t say much about most criteria for its inscription, and even for the species underwater I can’t say much from my own experience. It is for that reason that the better way of understanding of the islands one should head to the Mokupapapa Discovery Center on Hawaii’ (Big Island), either with a day tour or on your own.
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