The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument today celebrates its 10th anniversary as a World Heritage site.
The designation, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), recognizes the monument as “one of the best examples of both the world’s cultural as well as natural heritage.”
“A World Heritage site is part of an international community that appreciates and has concerns for universally significant properties,” said Athline Clark, NOAA superintendent of the monument in a news release. “Through a shared interest, countries join hands to protect and cherish the world’s natural and cultural heritage, expressed in a commitment to preserving our legacy for future generations.”
To be designated a World Heritage site, a country has to first nominate it, and then chosen by UNESCO.
The criteria include whether the site is important to the collective interests of humanity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in news release, as well as whether it represents a best example of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
The monument met multiple criteria under both the natural and cultural categories, and is one of only 39 global locations designated as a “mixed site.” Papahanaumokuakea is the only mixed World Heritage site within the U.S.
With the World Heritage site designation, Papahanaumokuakea gains world visibility and joins 1,121 other iconic sites around the globe, including the Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos Islands, Great Wall of China, and the Pyramid Fields of Egypt.
Papahanaumokuakea, a 1,350-mile stretch of coral isles, seamounts and shoals northwest of the main Hawaiian isle chain, is home to a diverse array of coral, fish, birds and marine mammals unique to Hawaii, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green sea turtle and 22 species of seabirds, including the Laysan albatross.
The area was established as a marine national monument in June 2006 by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act by former President George W. Bush. In 2016, former President Barack Obama expanded the monument an additional hundreds of thousands of square miles, quadrupling the size of the protected area under the same act.
Currently, it encompasses 139,797 square miles, making it the largest, contiguous and fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag.
The name Papahanaumokuakea, established in 2007, commemorates “the union of two Hawaiian ancestors – Papahanaumoku and Wakea – which gave rise to the Hawaiian Archipelago, the taro plant, and the Hawaiian people.”
The celebration of the anniversary comes in the wake of a request by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Wespac) that the Trump administration lift current commercial fishing restrictions in the monuments.
Suzanne Case, chair of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, wrote a letter to Trump last week saying that the agency opposed it, and did not agree with the council because fishing restrictions for the monuments “are a key component of the proper care and management” of protected resources identified in the presidential proclamations.
As a World Heritage site, NOAA said there is no additional regulatory overlay, and that the monument continues to be managed under current government agencies involved.
Four co-trustees jointly administer Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument – the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the State of Hawaii, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Day-to-day management of the monument is overseen by a seven-member management board composed of NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Services and Refuges Program, Hawaii Divisions of Aquatic Resources and Forestry and Wildlife, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Monument managers have the opportunity to participate in World Heritage meetings, events and discussions with world leaders in marine conservation. A World Heritage committee also holds nations accountable for protecting the sites.
“The ability to have the world recognize that this as one of those places that’s unparalleled and unlike any other is in and of itself such an honor,” said Clark. “The celebration of 10 years as a World Heritage site is more than a milestone. It demonstrates a commitment by our managers and the Nation to protect and conserve this rare and special place for future generations.”