The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, designated as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument under Presidential Proclamation 8031 on June 15, 2006, is the largest conservation area in the United States, encompassing 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. Within the boundaries of this monument lies a chain of atolls, shoals and small islands, comprising of only one tenth of one percent of the total landmass of the Hawaiian Islands, but contains an invaluable cultural, historical and ecological value for Hawaii and for our nation. For the first Polynesian explorers who found these islands by navigating solely on observations of the natural world around them, they would regard them as the homelands where spirits go to rest and where new life arises. For centuries, ship captains would learn the perils of navigating through low inconspicuous islands and poorly charted reefs. And in 1942, on a small atoll 1100 miles west of Pearl Harbor, American sailors, marines, and airmen would face insurmountable odds against an overwhelming force, and endure unimaginable sacrifice to achieve one of the most decisive battles in US history and forever alter the course of America and the Pacific as a whole during the Second World War. On the small areas of land within the region, 14 million seabirds, 90% of the population in the Hawaiian archipelago, nest here in the largest seabird rookery in the world. Hawaiian Monk seals, a species unique to Hawaii and threatened with extinction, and the only Marine Mammal found exclusively in the United States, uses the beaches to bask in the sun and give birth to their pups. And in the vast pristine coral reefs around each island and atoll, 7,000 species of fish use these reefs as habitats. One quarter of these fish as found exclusively in the Hawaiian archipelago. And lurking around these reefs are great numbers of predators, such as the Galapagose shark and the Ulua.
These photographs were all taken during research cruises on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Hi'ialakai. All of these photos are considered public domain and are available for download. These photos are not available for purchase.