Decision : 34 COM 8B.10
Mixed Properties-Papahānaumokuākea (United States of America)

 The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Documents WHC-10/34.COM/8B, WHC-10/34.COM/INF.8B1 and WHC-10/34.COM/INF.8B2,

2. Inscribes Papahānaumokuākea, United States of America, on the World Heritage List under criteria (iii), (vi), (viii), (ix) and (x);

3. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

Brief synthesis

Papahānaumokuākea is the name given to a vast and isolated linear cluster of small, low lying islands and atolls, with their surrounding ocean, extending some 1,931 kilometres to the north west of the main Hawaiian Archipelago, located in the north-central Pacific Ocean. The property comprises the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which extends almost 2000 km from southeast to northwest. 

The property includes a significant portion of the Hawai'i-Emperor hotspot trail, constituting an outstanding example of island hotspot progression. Much of the property is made up of pelagic and deepwater habitats, with notable features such as seamounts and submerged banks, extensive coral reefs, lagoons and 14 km2 emergent lands distributed between a number of eroded high islands, pinnacles, atoll islands and cays. With a total area of around 362,075 km2 it is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. The geomorphological history and isolation of the archipelago have led to the development of an extraordinary range of habitats and features, including an extremely high degree of endemism. Largely as a result of its isolation, marine ecosystems and ecological processes are virtually intact, leading to exceptional biomass accumulated in large apex predators. Island environments have, however, been altered through human use, and although some change is irreversible there are also examples of successful restoration.  The area is host to numerous endangered or threatened species, both terrestrial and marine, some of which depend solely on Papahānaumokuākea for their survival.

The pristine natural heritage of the area has deep cosmological and traditional significance for living Native Hawaiian culture, as an ancestral environment, as an embodiment of the Hawaiian concept of kinship between people and the natural world, and as the place where it is believed that life originates and where the spirits return to after death. 

On two of the islands, Nihoa and Makumanamana, there are archaeological remains relating to pre-European settlement and use, including a large ensemble of shrines, heiau, of a type specific to Papahānaumokuākea, but which resemble those of inland Tahiti. These, together with the sites of stone figures that show a strong relationship to similar carvings in the Marquesas, can be said to contribute to an understanding of Hawaiians strong cultural affiliation with Tahiti and the Marquesas

Criterion (iii): The well preserved heiau shrines on Nihoa and Mokumanamana, and their associated still living traditions are both distinctive to Hawai'i but, positioned within a wider 3,000 year old Pacific/Polynesian marae-ahu cultural continuum, they can be seen as an exceptional testimony to the strong cultural affiliation between Hawai'i, Tahiti and the Marquesas, resulting from long periods of migration.

Criterion (vi): The vibrant and persistent beliefs associated with Papahānaumokuākea are of outstanding significance as a key element in Pacific socio-cultural evolutionary patterns of beliefs and provide a profound understanding of the key roles that ancient marae-ahu, such as those found in Raiatea, the 'centre' of Polynesia, once fulfilled. These living traditions of the Hawaiians that celebrate the natural abundance of Papahānaumokuākea and its association with sacred realms of life and death, are directly and tangibly associated with the heiau shrines of Nihoa and Mokumanamana and the pristine islands beyond to the north-west.

Criterion (viii): The property provides an illustrating example of island hotspot progression, formed as a result of a relatively stationary hotspot and stable tectonic plate movement.  Comprising a major portion of the world's longest and oldest volcanic chain, the scale, distinctness and linearity of the manifestation of these geological processes in Papahānaumokuākea are unrivalled and have shaped our understanding of plate tectonics and hotspots. The geological values of the property are directly connected to the values in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and World Heritage property and jointly present a very significant testimony of hotspot volcanism. 

Criterion (ix): The large area of the property encompasses a multitude of habitats, ranging from 4,600 m below sea level to 275 m above sea level, including abyssal areas, seamounts and submerged banks, coral reefs, shallow lagoons, littoral shores, dunes, dry grasslands and shrublands and a hypersaline lake.  The size of the archipelago, its biogeographic isolation as well as the distance between islands and atolls has led to distinct and varied habitat types and species assemblages. Papahānaumokuākea constitutes a remarkable example of ongoing evolutionary and bio-geographical processes, as illustrated by its exceptional ecosystems, speciation from single ancestral species, species assemblages and very high degree of marine and terrestrial endemism.  For example, a quarter of the nearly 7,000 presently known marine species in the area are endemic. Over a fifth of the fish species are unique to the archipelago while coral species endemism is over 40%. As many species and habitats remain to be studied in detail these numbers are likely to rise.  Because of its isolation, scale and high degree of protection the property provides an unrivalled example of reef ecosystems which are still dominated by top predators such as sharks, a feature lost from most other island environments due to human activity.

Criterion (x): The terrestrial and marine habitats of Papahānaumokuākea are crucial for the survival of many endangered or vulnerable species the distributions of which are highly or entirely restricted to the area.  This includes the critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, four endemic bird species (Laysan Duck, Laysan Finch, Nihoa Finch and Nihoa Millerbird, and six species of endangered plants such as the Fan Palm. Papahānaumokuākea is a vital feeding, nesting, and nursery habitat for many other species, including seabirds, sea turtles and cetaceans.  With 5.5 million sea birds nesting in the monument every year and 14 million residing in it seasonally it is collectively the largest tropical seabird rookery in the world, and includes 99% of the world's Laysan Albatross (vulnerable) and 98% of the world's Black-footed Albatross (endangered). Despite relatively low species diversity compared to many other coral reef environments, the property is thus of very high in situ biodiversity conservation value.


The boundaries of the property are all located in the ocean, but nevertheless have been clearly defined, demarcated on navigational charts and communicated widely.  The large size of the property ensures inclusion of a wide variety of habitat types, including a highly significant area of marginal reef environment as well as submerged banks and deepwater habitat. It also ensures a high degree of replication of habitat type.  Although past use has altered some terrestrial environments the property is still predominantly in a natural state: its nature conservation status is exceptional. This is largely due to its isolation as well as a combination of management and protection efforts, some dating back more than 100 years, including national natural resource protection legislation as well as internationally adopted restrictions.  The integrity of the property and its ecological processes are in excess of most other island archipelagos and most other tropical marine environments in the world.

All the cultural attributes that reflect Outstanding Universal Value are within the boundaries of the property. The archaeological sites remain relatively undisturbed by cultural factors.  Although none of the attributes are under severe threat, some of the archaeological sites need further conservation and protection against damage from plants and wildlife.


The unique arrangement of the collections of shrines of Mokumanamana and Nihoa islands need to be read in detail for their sacred and religious associations, linked to other similar sites across the Pacific.  The strong spiritual religious associations of Mokumanamana island are living and relevant.  Damage due to natural processes of decay, and disturbance by wildlife could also disturb their layout and ability to display clearly their meaning.

Protection and management requirements

Papahānaumokuākea is a highly protected area established through Presidential Proclamation in 2009, which adds to pre-existing state, federal and international legal mandates.  The multiple layers of Federal and State legislation and regulation protect Papahānaumokuākea's natural heritage and also its cultural heritage: both monuments and landscape. The property was declared a Marine National Monument under the national Antiquities Act, and is further protected by other national legislation including as the National Historic Protection Act, Historic Sites Act, and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. There are also traditional Native Hawaiian protocols protecting the property's physical and intangible cultural heritage.

The multiple jurisdictions have created a complex institutional environment for management of the property, but management planning and intervention practices are appropriate.  The three management Agencies for the property are the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.  There is a need to establish and maintain effective natural, archaeological and cultural heritage skills in managing the property.  An archaeologist/cultural heritage specialist is required for the property, to complement the management of its natural values.  The multiple jurisdictions have created a complex institutional environment for management of the property, but management planning and intervention practices are well conceived.  In view of the threats facing the property, well-governed multi-agency involvement and participation is a strength, provided the complexity does not compromise operational capacities and the ability to quickly respond to challenges.  It is a particular strength in relation to addressing the threats to the property that originate beyond its boundaries. 

A Monument Protection Plan has been drawn up by key stakeholders, which will act as the guiding document for the property over the next 15 years. This includes strategic objectives and detailed thematic action plans that address priority needs. It is important that these efforts are sustained with the aim to increase streamlining, including to achieve more effective mechanisms for stakeholder participation and outreach. There is a need to ensure that the management system achieves effective, equitable and integrated management that protects and conserves both the cultural attributes and natural features of the property that are the basis for its Outstanding Universal Value. 

Threats to the natural values of the property emanating outside its boundaries include marine litter, hazardous cargo, future exploration and mining, military operations, Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, commercial fishing, anchor damage, vessel strikes and Invasive Alien Species.

A key issue in relation to threats to cultural attributes is the need to ensure archaeological sites are not disturbed by burrowing animals or plants, and that monitoring indicators address the impact of natural processes on the archaeological resources.  There is also a need for management to be underpinned by clear documentation of the physical cultural resource, based on the outcomes of the current archaeological investigations.

4. Commends the State Party on the on-going comprehensive management efforts and encourages the State Party to continue and intensify efforts to address the threats to the property emanating outside its boundaries, including marine litter, hazardous cargo, future exploration and mining, military operations, Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, commercial fishing, anchor damage, vessel strikes and Invasive Alien Species, through consultation, collaboration and development and implementation of appropriate strategies nationally and, as possible, internationally;

5. Also commends the State Party on the development of a consultation process between the Monument Management Board and the Department of Defense, also encourages the State Party to further investigate opportunities for improved information sharing and coordination with the military in support of management efforts and urges the State Party to ensure that the military presence will not in any way affect the Outstanding Universal Value and the integrity of the property;

6. Recommends that research and awareness-raising should consider the geological linkages with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and World Heritage property;

7. Also recommends that the State Party, through the co-trustee agencies and the Monument Management Board and in consultation and collaboration with relevant institutions and stakeholder groups, develop a response plans for the property related to climate change, in order to harmonize existing agency plans and activities in a coherent framework that can further strengthen conservation and management efforts as well as generate information of importance beyond the property itself;

8. Welcomes the sister site agreement between the Governments of the United States of America and Kiribati on the management of Papahānaumokuākea and Phoenix Islands Protected Area respectively, and encourages State Parties to continue and, as possible, expand on this collaboration;

9. Further recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following points:

a) Ensure the management system achieves an equitable balance between the protection of cultural and natural attributes with the support of a cultural heritage specialist;

b) In order to address the fragility of, and disruption to, the archaeological remains from plant and animals, put in place deterrents to ensure archaeological sites are not disturbed by burrowing animals of plants;

c) Develop monitoring arrangements to monitor the impact of natural processes on the archaeological resources;

d) Provide clear documentation of the physical cultural resources based on the outcomes of the current archaeological investigations;

e) Ensure no military training activities take place on Nihoa and Mokumanamana islands.

Themes: Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
States Parties: United States of America
Properties: Papahānaumokuākea
Year: 2010
Decision Code: 34 COM 8B.10