Friday mystery photo

Papahānaumokuākea supports a population of endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This photo was taken at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawai'i.

Hawai'i's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a World Heritage listed monument encompassing 140,000 square miles (an area larger than the country of Greece) of ocean waters. The marine site includes ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and is internationally recognized for both its cultural and natural values.

Photo: NOAA, flickr

The name for the area was inspired by the names of the Hawaiian creator goddess Papahānaumoku and her husband Wakea. Although it's not a sanctuary, the ocean area is part of a system of 13 National Marine Sanctuaries administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge within the monument is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Papahānaumokuākea supports 7,000 wildlife species, one quarter of which are endemic. Protected species include the threatened Green Sea Turtle, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the Laysan and Nihoa Finches and seabirds such as the Laysan Albatross. The monument receives strict conservation protection so dwindling populations of endangered species like the spiny lobster, Hawaiian monk seal and sea birds may once more thrive in the wild.

Male frigate bird. Photo: Kris Krug, flickr

On June 15, 2006, President George W. Bush signed Proclamation 8031, designating the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The president was moved to protect the area after watching the documentary film Voyage to Kure at the White House along with its director, Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of documentary film maker Jacques-Yves Cousteau).

The Refuge and National Memorial are the only parts of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument that are open to the public. All activities at Midway require a Monument Permit, and groups interested in conducting educational or recreational tours are welcome to apply for a permit. Visitors may also arrange a visit to Papahānaumokuākea through several tour guide services that have obtained permits.

Photo: NOAA, flickr

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument exists because past presidents and lawmakers had the foresight to protect natural, cultural and historical treasures for future generations. The Wilderness Society is currently working with local communities, members of Congress and the presidential administration to see more special places protected as national monuments.