WHS new “Tentative List”: Places to Love–Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii

For the Gadling series “World Heritage Site new “Tentative List”: Places to Love” we are covering the 14 sites that have been submitted for possible inclusion as an official World Heritage Site in the United States. The sites will not be posted in order of importance or in the order they appear on the list.

Number 10

Name of Site: Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii

Location: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the surrounding waters. Go 140 miles northwest of Hawaii’s main islands and you are there. The span of this monument continues for 1,200 miles as you keep heading northwest. To see a selection of maps of the area, click here.

Reason for importance in a nutshell: This “string of islands and adjacent waters represents the longest, clearest, and oldest example of island formation and atoll evolution in the world.” The islands are also culturally important because 1,000 years ago people lived here and their artifacts can be seen today.

Jamie’s Take: Where does one begin when talking about a site that covers 137,797 square miles? First of all, this is the best coral reef system in United States’ waters and the “largest marine conservation area in the world.” It’s the least disturbed and the healthiest, probably because it so far enough away from Hawaii’s main islands that people don’t just hop on over on a moment’s notice.

Secondly, along with the green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, 14 million seabirds and other land birds call this home. Add in the diversity of the plant and marine animals found in the area (1/4 of them are only found here) and we’re talking a mega treasure trove of natural wonders.

The area includes: NWII Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary, and the NWHI State Marine Refuge.

As a note, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge was designated in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt making it one of the oldest National Wildlife Refuges in the United States.

Also of significance, these islands are a bridge between cultures–the Hawaiian and Polynesian. 1,000 years ago people settled on two of the islands leaving behind their traces. Artifacts have been found that possibly connect the islands’ once inhabitants to Marquesas and Tahiti. Along with those artifacts are ones that connect the islands to more recent happenings. Pearl oyster harvesting, fishing and guano mining once happened here, as well as, the World War II Battle of Midway.

Within the atolls, there are more than 60 vessels and 67 aircrafts that have created a rich history below the ocean’s surface.

Whether or not the World Heritage Site folks name the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii one of the official sites, this is definitely a place to be treasured. I’m happy that there are so many sanctuaries and preserves involved in its protection. What a wonderous place past the boundaries of the Hawaii most people think of when they travel there.