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Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument designated a World Heritage Site

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument


HONOLULU – Governor Linda Lingle today heralded the designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site, as another major milestone in the continuing effort to protect and preserve one of the most historically and culturally significant resources of Hawai‘i. Papahānaumokuākea was inscribed as a World Heritage site at approximately 3:30 p.m. HST on Friday, July 30, 2010.

“UNESCO’s designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a World Heritage Site confirms what the people of Hawai‘i have known for generations about this exceptional environmental and cultural treasure,” said Governor Lingle. “The journey to achieve World Heritage Status involved an immense commitment on the part of many environmental, cultural, community and native Hawaiian organizations, working closely with the state and federal government. I would also like to commend the outstanding team at the Department of Land and Natural Resources as well as my staff for working to achieve this important designation of international significance.”

UNESCO’s World Heritage List protects and preserves natural and cultural heritage sites of “outstanding universal value” as determined by the standards and process established under the World Heritage Convention, the most widely adopted international agreement for the conservation of nature and preservation of culture.

Papahānaumokuākea is the first site designated with cultural connections to the sea, and adds to underrepresented World Heritage sites from the Pacific. It is the U.S.’s first marine site, and the world’s first cultural seascape. Papahānaumokuākea becomes only the 26th World Heritage Site to be recognized globally for both its natural and cultural significance.

Papahānaumokuākea joins a globally exclusive list of sites with outstanding universal value that are unique and diverse – such as East Africa’s Serengeti, the Egyptian Pyramids, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and the Galapagos Islands.

The World Heritage Site designation follows several years of collaboration between the Lingle-Aiona Administration and the federal government, as well as environmental and cultural organizations to support the protection of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

In September 2005, after a three-and-a-half-year public process that resulted in more than 25,000 public comments, Governor Lingle established a State Marine Refuge in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that set aside all State waters as a limited access, no-take marine protected area. This created the largest marine conservation area in the history of the State, protecting 1,026 square miles of coral reefs from the shoreline to three miles offshore. The Administration also worked closely with the federal government to ensure similar protections at the national level, which culminated with the President’s designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a marine national monument in June 2006. Shortly after, in March 2007, then First Lady Laura Bush and Governor Lingle announced the name Papahānaumokuākea for the 1,200-mile chain of atolls and reefs.

In January 2009, then President George W. Bush announced the nomination of Papahānaumokuākea as a UNESCO World Heritage site as a “mixed” site – for both its natural and cultural resource values – because of its unique geology, ecology, biology, Native Hawaiian cultural heritage, and its significance to the world.

The nomination package was led by the State of Hawai‘i and prepared collaboratively with various National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offices, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs with assistance and peer reviews provided by members of the Native Hawaiian community, National Park Service, Bishop Museum, academia, and international experts.


Delegates to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) 34 th World Heritage Convention in Brasilia, Brazil, agreed to inscribe Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as one of only 26 mixed (natural and cultural) World Heritage Sites in the World.

Inscription of this remote oceanic expanse is a win for the United States on its first nomination of a site in 15 years. The vote also establishes the first mixed World Heritage Site in the nation, which covers an area of nearly 140,000 square miles.

“Inscription confirms what we feel in our hearts every day,” said Susan White, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Superintendent for the Monument. “We thank the UNESCO delegates for their recognition that Papahānaumokuākea is a profoundly wonderful place for wildlife, for our host culture, and now for humanity. As a nation, we’ve solidified our promise to the world that we will continue to protect it.”

Papahānaumokuākea’s globally significant natural attributes incorporate its living, indigenous, cultural connections to the sea – where modern Hawaiian wayfinders (non-instrument navigators) still voyage for navigational training on traditional double-hulled sailing canoes; an aspect of inscription unique to Papahānaumokuākea.

Additionally, World Heritage status places this traditional skill, which was used to navigate across the worlds largest ocean – one of the greatest feats of human kind – onto the world stage.

“This inscription, a first natural and cultural inscription for Hawaii, and a first inscription in 15 years for the United States, elevates Hawaii in the eyes of the world and underscores our responsibility to protect our culturally, naturally and spiritually significant places for future generations, as our ancestors would want,” said Haunani Apoliona, Chairperson of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

Aulani Wilhelm, NOAA Superintendent for the Monument agreed.

“We hope Papahānaumokuākea’s inscription will help expand the global view of culture and the contributions of Oceanic peoples to World Heritage and underscore that for so many indigenous peoples, nature and culture are one,” Wilhelm said.

Papahānaumokuākea is the second World Heritage Site in the state; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was inscribed in 1987. Together, the two sites emphasize one of the six criteria for which the Monument was designated.

The small islands, reefs, and shoals of Papahānaumokuākea represent the longest, clearest, and oldest example of island formation and atoll evolution in the world, spanning 28 million years, which contrasts strikingly with Hawaii Island’s continued volcanic growth at the southeastern end of the Hawaiian Archipelago.

The near pristine remote reefs, islands, and waters of Papahānaumokuākea provide refuge and habitat for a wide array of threatened and endangered species and is one of the last predator-dominated coral reef ecosystems on the planet; manō (sharks) and ulua (jacks) dominate the underwater landscape.

The region also provides critical nesting and foraging grounds for 14 million seabirds makingit the largest tropical seabird rookery in the world.

World Heritage designation does not change the Monument‟s cooperative federal-state management mission, plan or structure, nor does it impose, change or add regulations or restrictions.

The Monument‟s management philosophy and regulations have always been designed to “bring the place to the people” through education, virtual exposure, and extremely limited visitation.

Although inscription has increased tourism at other World Heritage sites, for Papahānaumokuākea, the situation is quite different. All human access and activity will remain by permit only, with visitation by the public restricted to Midway Atoll under strict carrying-capacity guidelines.

Laura Thielen, Chairperson of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, summarized: “World Heritage inscription for Papahānaumokuākea allows us to share her stories, obtain global recognition of Hawaii‟s special attributes, and bring the place to our residents, visitors and to peoplearound the world.”

Papahānaumokuākea is cooperatively managed to ensure ecological integrity and achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of Northwestern Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations.

Three co-trustees – the Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior, and State of Hawaii – joined by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, protect this special place.

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