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Proposal Would Change Ocean Monument to Sanctuary

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing a change for the already existing Papahanaumokuakea National Monument to a national marine sanctuary.

The two are created under different federal laws, and have differences in management. National marine sanctuaries are designated under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, while marine national monuments are established under the Antiquities Act, according to NOAA.

National marine sanctuaries are managed by NOAA through its Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and in some cases, in partnership with state governments and local communities.
Monuments are managed by multiple government agencies, which may include NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and other federal and state partners. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is co-managed by the Department of Commerce through NOAA, the Department of the Interior, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The suggested sanctuary covers roughly 582,250 square miles. The boundary aligns with the already existing Papahanaumokuakea National Monument, which encompasses the surroundings of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This includes the waters from the islands and atolls’ shores extending out to 200 nautical miles, covering all state waters, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, Midway Atoll, Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuges, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Refuge.

According to NOAA, the marine habitat includes several interconnected ecosystems, including coral islands surrounded by shallow reefs, low-light mesophotic reefs with extensive algal beds, open ocean waters connected to the greater North Pacific Ocean, deep-water habitats, and deep reef habitat with seamounts, banks, and shoals.

The area also contains downed ships and other artifacts from World War II battles like the Battle of Midway.

Molokai residents recently had a chance to share their mana’o on a potential national marine sanctuary at Papahanaumokuakea when NOAA held a public hearing for comment on the proposal on April 18 at Kulana ‘Oiwi.

Molokai residents expressed both support and opposition for the proposed plan. Concerns centered around continued access for food subsistence practices, with support for the project hinging on lasting protection for this pristine marine environment. But the community emphasized concerns about the lack of awareness, outreach, and information about this situation.

Many Molokai residents criticized the lack of outreach done by NOAA preceding the meeting.

The final decision on the proposed Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Sanctuary has not yet been made and NOAA will accept public comment on the proposal until May 7. Molokai residents can learn more about the project and submit testimony at sanctuaries.noaa.gov/papahanaumokuakea.


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