Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

United States of America (Europe and North America)

Date of Submission: 30/01/2008
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(vi)(viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submission prepared by:
U.S. Department of the Interior
State, Province or Region:
N25 20 56.76 W170 8 45.586
Ref.: 5250


This is a mixed cultural and natural proposal for a vast Pacific Ocean area running northwest from the island of Kauai in the present main chain of the Hawaiian Islands for 2,000 km (1,200 miles).  Scattered in the vast and deep ocean are some 10 small islands, collectively embracing about 1,300 hectares (5 square miles) of land area, along with reefs and shoals.  In this remote and still relatively pristine part of the Pacific, marine life remains abundant and diverse, with a large number of endemic species.  The area provides refuge to a wide array of threatened and endangered species, including sea turtles, sharks, monk seals, whales, albatross and other seabirds. 

These waters were crossed by the native Hawaiians at least 1,000 years before any other people did so.  The Hawaiians planted settlements on some of the islands, which now have important archeological sites and continuing cultural significance.  The islands also figured in the European exploration of the Pacific and in Pacific whaling, communications, and early aviation.  One of them, Midway, became the focus of its namesake battle in June 1942--the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.  In addition to World War II-era  wrecks of ships and aircraft present in the water, there are about 60 known shipwrecks, including important 19th century whaling vessels, some of which were based in Honolulu and Lahaina and utilized native Hawaiian labor.  There are also at least 67 downed aircraft.   

The establishment of the Marine National Monument in June 2006 brought together the island chain and adjoining waters under the joint responsibility of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii.

Justification for Outstanding Universal Value

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

There is extraordinary ecology and biodiversity in this area that would, if inscribed, be one of the largest World Heritage Sites in area and one of the few marine sites.  The Monument's size, remoteness, high level of biodiversity and endemism clearly make it one of the world's most important marine sites.  It is also important for its centrality to Hawaiian culture and its importance in the settlement of the Pacific.  In addition, the small islands, reefs, and shoals in this vast oceanic expanse are all that remain of what were, some 7 to 27 million years ago, large islands formed by volcanic action.  The 2,000 km (1,200-mile)-long string of islands represents the longest, clearest, and oldest example of island formation and atoll evolution in the world.  Nowhere else is this progression illustrated in such an unambiguous and linear fashion.

The visitation and settlement of these small islands by the native Hawaiians were epic feats of seafaring at least a millennium, if not longer, before Europeans first crossed the Pacific.  Indeed, even the main Hawaiian chain was not reached by any Europeans until 1778.  These isolated islands are of exceptional cultural and spiritual importance to Native Hawaiians for the islands both generated the rest of the archipelago and are in the direction from which they believe the source of all life originated. 

Satements of authenticity and/or integrity

The natural resources of this area are so vast that the cultural resources contained within it, while deemed of be of outstanding universal value in their own right, have not been significantly affected by humans--except on and in the immediate vicinity of some of the islands, particularly Midway.  Given the remoteness of the islands they have been largely undisturbed, except for their brief importance in exploration, whaling and fishing, communication, and World War II and subsequent military use, again essentially restricted to Midway.  The Marine National Monument has strong management protocols and procedures in place to address such issues as marine debris, illegal fishing, and other potential threats.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are no sites on the World Heritage List that are mixed marine and terrestrial natural and cultural heritage sites.  Although the Galapagos (World Heritage Nomination # 1) is representative of an isolated Pacific archipelago with a marine component, it does not share the Polynesian cultural history of Papahanaumokuakea.  The same is true of Costa Rica's Cocos Island.  Rapa Nui National Park (Easter Island), Chile, is listed for culture alone.

The endemism of the marine portion of the national monument is comparable with and often higher than that of other Pacific Ocean archipelagos; fish endemism is as high as or higher than any other isolated island system in the world.   Land endemism is also high both for species of land birds, insects and spiders, land snails, and some plants.

Among reefs inscribed in the World Heritage List, the closest comparisons to Papahanaumokuakea are the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the Belize Barrier reef, but both those reefs are affected by their locations near continental landmasses and thus have marine fauna more representative of their regions as a whole, rather than the highly endemic fauna of Papahanaumokuakea.

In terms of its significance as a cultural site, Papahanaumokuakea plays a critical role in understanding the nature of Polynesian migration and settlement in the Pacific; it would be the first World Heritage Site that commemorates and perpetuates the wayfinding and seafaring culture of Polynesia -- the Maori of Tongariro, New Zealand (already a World Heritage Site) not being a voyaging people in the same manner.