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Two black-footed albatross or kaʻupu watch over their chick at French Frigate Shoals. (Photo credit: Mark Sullivan/NOAA)

The first report on Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) in more than 10 years provides an update of its resources and some surprising discoveries. PMNM is one of the largest fully protected marine conservation areas in the world, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for both it’s natural and cultural importance.

The University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa is involved in PMNM research through various colleges and institutions such as Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Department of Botany and Joint Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR). Brian Hauk, a resource protection manager at JIMAR for PMNM, which is under the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service, was a part of the research team that conducted the PMNM 2020 report.

fish swimming by coral reefs
Rare fishes at Kure. (Photo credit: NOAA/Richard Pyle-Bishop Museum)
birds perching on rocks
Boobies perch atop ceremonial shrines on Mokumanamana. (Photo credit: Kaleomanuʻiwa Wong)

The report includes a newly discovered mesophotic (a kind of coral ecosystem found in tropical and subtropical regions at depths ranging from almost 100 feet to over 490 feet below the ocean’s surface) species, records of algae and fish found on deep dive surveys, non-indigenous marine species and an invasive species of cryptogenic algae, Chondria tumulosa, which is smothering Manawai reefs and everything in its path.

“We found deep reefs at Kure atoll that had 100% endemic fish populations on our surveys, and we have been working with our partners to describe several species that are new to science all together,” said Hauk.

PMNM‘s original management plan was released in 2008, and there has not been a substantial update, until now. This new report uses the most recent scientific research to assess PMNM‘s resources and update their status and trends. A lot of the data behind this research was done by UH Mānoa, its affiliates and partner agencies.

The information contained in the report is critical in understanding how Hawaiʻi can better steward protected areas like PMNM.

“It is through that knowledge that we can expand our understanding of pristine natural places and implement practices in our own backyard to enable ecosystems to return to a more natural state,” said Hauk. “Through these actions, people in Hawaiʻi, the university and the world can better strive towards maintaining sustainable resources and ecosystems for future generations.”

Hawaiian monk seal near reef
A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal swims near Trig Island, French Frigate Shoals. (Photo credit: Mark Sullivan/NOAA)
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