Marine Conservation Biology Institute Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Protecting Marine Ecosystems

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

NWHI seabird
Black-footed albatross preparing to fledge. NWHI is an important habitat for seabirds. (Photo: J. Palmer, NMFS/USFWS)

On June 15, 2006, President Bush announced the designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). At nearly 140,000 square miles in size, the monument is the largest marine protected area in the world. These islands are home to millions of seabirds, an incredible diversity of coral reef species — including deep-sea corals, and the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal. About 90% of Hawaii’s green sea turtles nest in the NWHI, as do about 99% of the world’s populations of Laysan albatross and 98 % of the black-footed albatross. The islands are also important to Native Hawaiians for culture, history, and religion.

MCBI was actively engaged in the designation process. Since the designation, we have been working with a variety of national and Hawaii-based organizations to ensure strong, effective, ecosytem based management for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. MCBI continues to meet numerous state and federal officials to discuss the protection and management of this area, and comment on the management plan and action plans for the moneument. A few months prior to the designation, MCBI’s President Elliott Norse, and board members Jim Greenwood and Sylvia Earle, had the opportunity to meet with President Bush at a White House dinner following the screening of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s film " Voyage to Kure." This film, along with each person present at this dinner was undoubtly instrumental in educating the President of the area’s importance.  


Report on the Impacts of Fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

NWHI seabird
Hawaiian monk seal, with fewer than 1,200 seals left in the wild, is a highly endangered species found only in Hawaii. (Photo: J. Palmer, NMFS/USFWS)

In 2006, MCBI and The Ocean Conservancy (TOC) released a peer-reviewed report on the impacts of fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Using the best available data and the standard scientific methodology, MCBI and TOC found that fishing for bottomfish in the NWHI is unsustainable and not compatible with the area’s protection. A unique and diverse ecosystem exists in the NWHI archipelago, which stretches from the Main Hawaiian Islands to Kure atoll (1,380 miles from Honolulu). This ecosystem contains extensive and massive reef colonies and thousands of marine species, and stands apart as an oceanic gem at a time in which large fish are disappearing and worldwide ecosystems are in decline. The report shows that even this relatively untouched region is susceptible to harm from limited commercial fishing. Given the sensitive and delicate balance of this remote ecosystem, and the number of endangered species dependent upon its health, MCBI is thrilled with President Bush’s decision to phase out all fishing in the next five years.

Download the report Bottomfish Fishing in the Northwestern Hawai'ian Islands: Is It Ecologically Sustainable? [PDF] and its summary [PDF].


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Explore the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands:






View a map of the island chain.

Download the report Bottomfish Fishing in the Northwestern Hawai'ian Islands: Is It Ecologically Sustainable? [PDF] and its Summary [PDF].

Learn More – See MCBI’s past and present efforts to strengthen place-based management of marine resources in the Gulf of Maine, in National Marine Sancatuaries, and on North America’s Pacific coast.