The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — a pristine haven for coral and other marine life, and a treasured site of ancient Hawaiian shrines — has been named a U.N. World Heritage site.
The area northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands is the only U.S. location to make the list for both natural and cultural reasons, said monument spokesman Dan Dennison.
The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, made the decision at a meeting in Brazil, Dennison said.
The committee aims to identify sites "considered to be of outstanding value to humanity" and encourages their protection and preservation. There are about 890 sites around the world on the list.
Papahanaumokuakea consists of remote, mostly uninhabited atolls and the waters surrounding them.
It is home to 69 percent of the coral reefs in U.S. territory. It also hosts 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are found only in Hawaii. The area is off-limits to fishing, allowing for healthy and abundant populations of sharks, ulua or jackfish, and other marine life.
At Mokumanamana, a rocky outcrop in the monument about 460 miles northwest of Honolulu, ancient heiau, or shrines, line the top of a ridge running along the spine of the island.