Highlights of Papahanaumokuakea
Introduction to Papahanaumokuakea
Located to the northwest of the Hawaiian Archipelago, Papahanaumokuakea is a cluster of small and isolated islands. They are significant due to their importance to Native Hawaiian culture. These people believe that this linear group of islands is where life originates and is also the place that spirits go after death. It is an embodiment of the Hawaiian idea that there is a kinship between human beings and the natural world.
The area also features coral reefs, lagoons, seamounts, and submerged banks. It is one of the world’s largest marine protected areas. There is quite an extensive range of habitats here, including deepwater habitats. Due largely to the area’s isolation, there is a high occurrence of endemic species. The area is home to many threatened and endangered species as well.
Two of the islands, Makumanamana and Nihoa, are home to archaeological remains of pre-European settlement. Some of these sites are 3,000 years old, including shrines and stone figures. These archaeological finds tie the Hawaiian culture to both Tahiti and the Marquesas.
Guide to Papahanaumokuakea
The management of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument believes in the concept of “bringing the place to the people.” In other words, in order to maintain the integrity of the ecosystems and cultural heritage in this area, human access is limited.
Visitors are encouraged to experience the area through education and virtual experiences by visiting Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo on the island of Hawaii. The hours for the Discovery Center are 9AM to 4PM, Tuesday through Saturday. It is free to the public and is a 4,000 square foot facility that allows visitors to explore Papahanaumokuakea from a distance. It features interactive displaces, 3D models, a theater, and exhibits on geography, culture, history and ecology. Many exhibits are written in both English and Hawaiian.
The Discovery Center also features a 2,500 gallon aquarium, housing some of the fish from the coral reefs. Access to the monument itself is by permit only. The only area that allows visitors is the Midway Atoll, but even this is subject to very strict capacity regulations and access is available through chartered aircraft only. A few small group tours are available as well, but only through private operators.
Video of Papahanaumokuakea
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History of Papahanaumokuakea
Native Hawaiians inhabited this area for thousands of years before European discovery. Polynesian voyagers first arrived on the Hawaiian islands in 300 AD. These people settled on the larger islands, but evidence also suggests that they may have inhabited two islands within Papahanaumokuakea. These people were able to develop a unique set of skills that allowed them to survive on these remote islands with somewhat limited resources.
The Northwester Hawaiian Islands, the Papahanaumokuakea area, became a sacred place for these people. Studies in 1923 by the Tanger Expedition excavated human skeletal remains, stone statue, and other artifacts from the Papahanaumokuakea area . However, while these were valuable discoveries, the excavations unfortunately contributed to destabilizing sections of stone walling of the islands. Since the Tanger Expedition, visitations to the islands have been minimal.
The area is protected as part of the Hawaiian Islands Reservation, so access to the islands is very limited. On July 30, 2010, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument was made a World Heritage Site. It is one of only 26 sites that is a mix of cultural and natural heritage in the world, and the only such site in the United States.
Getting to Papahanaumokuakea
There are several airports located on the Hawaiian Islands. The most convenient airports are located on the big island of Hawaii. The closest airport to fly into is the Hilo International Airport. The Kona International Airport is approximately 90 miles away, but is also on the big island of Hawaii.
From Hilo International Airport, head west on Airport Road. Then, turn right onto Hawaii Belt Road. Continue for about half a mile, then turn left onto Kamehameha Ave. Next, make a left onto Mamo St, then make the first right onto Punahoa St. The Discovery Center will be on your right. From Kona International Airport at Keahole, make a left turn onto HI-19/Queen Kaahumanu and continue on for approximately 26 miles. Then make a right turn onto HI-19/Kawaihae Road. You will continue straight onto Lindsey Road, then make a left turn onto HI-19/Hawaii Belt Road. Next, make a right turn onto Waianuenue Ave, then a left onto Kamehameha Ave. Continue and make the 3rd right onto Furneaux St. Take the first left onto Punahoa St. and the Discovery Center will be on your left.
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