Hawai‘i conservation organizations in support of protecting the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument
Dear Secretary Zinke and Secretary Ross,
As representatives of Hawai‘i’s conservation community interested in the health of our islands and oceans, we write in strong support of maintaining the current protections for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. From the designation to the expansion of these monuments, our message has not changed, nor has our support wavered. We firmly believe these protections safeguard some of the world’s most unique marine ecosystems and ensure future generations are able to enjoy the benefits provided by a healthy, clean, and productive ocean.
Scientists have shown marine reserves are a critical tool for protecting biodiversity, habitats, and important ecosystem processes further emphasizing the need to protect Papahānaumokuākea and the Pacific Remote Islands.
The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument protects ecosystems that are essential for more than 7,000 species–a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Monument waters provide feeding and breeding grounds for more than 14 million birds from 22 different species, highly mobile predators such as tiger and Galapagos sharks, and protect twenty-four species of whales and dolphins sighted in the expansion area. Three of these species are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered: sperm whales, fin whales, and sei whales. Recent expeditions to the deep-sea ecosystems discover new species on nearly every survey, including the world’s oldest organism, a 4,000-year-old deep-sea coral.
The original monument designation of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument includes 33 seamounts, yet the expansion areas include approximately 132 more. Estimates are that 15 to 44 percent of the species on a seamount or seamount group are found nowhere else on Earth. Of note, roughly 5 to 10 percent of invertebrates found on each survey of a seamount are new to science. These areas provide the opportunity for identification and discovery of many species not yet known to humans, with possibilities for research, medicines, and other important uses. The expanded areas also provide significant migratory paths and feeding grounds for five species of protected turtles including the endangered leatherback, loggerhead, and Olive Ridley turtles. Since the Monument was established, scientific research on manta ray movement has shown that manta rays frequently travel over 600 nautical miles away from the coastal environment. The expansion areas also provide the foraging habitat for several of the world’s largest remaining colonies of Sooty Terns, Lesser Frigatebirds, Red-footed Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, and other seabird species. Many of these wide-ranging species make foraging trips of 300 miles or more from their colonies on the Monument’s islands, atolls, and reefs.
The expansion of both monuments creates an important network that aids the dispersal of fish, coral, and other invertebrate larvae. For example, these protected areas act as key stepping stones for species of coral, which spawn in the Pacific Remote Islands and the larvae disperse colonizing reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
As conservation organizations dedicated to the sustainable future of our ocean ecosystems, we urge you to maintain the protections for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Please accept this letter as an official public comment for Docket No. DOI-2017-0002.