HONOLULU (July 30, 2010) – Hawai’i Governor Linda Lingle last week heralded the designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site, as another major milestone in the continuing effort to protect and preserve one of the most historically and culturally significant resources of Hawai‘i. Papahānaumokuākea was inscribed as a World Heritage site at approximately 3:30 p.m. HST on Friday, July 30, 2010.
“UNESCO’s designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a World Heritage Site confirms what the people of Hawai‘i have known for generations about this exceptional environmental and cultural treasure,” said Governor Lingle. “The journey to achieve World Heritage Status involved an immense commitment on the part of many environmental, cultural, community and native Hawaiian organizations, working closely with the state and federal government.
“I would also like to commend the outstanding team at the Department of Land and Natural Resources as well as my staff for working to achieve this important designation of international significance,” she added.
UNESCO’s World Heritage List protects and preserves natural and cultural heritage sites of “outstanding universal value” as determined by the standards and process established under the World Heritage Convention, the most widely adopted international agreement for the conservation of nature and preservation of culture.
Papahānaumokuākea the first site designated with cultural connections to the sea, and adds to underrepresented World Heritage sites from the Pacific. It is the U.S.’s first marine site, and the world’s first cultural seascape.
Papahānaumokuākea becomes only the 26th World Heritage Site to be recognized globally for both its natural and cultural significance. It joins a globally exclusive list of sites with outstanding universal value that are unique and diverse – such as East Africa’s Serengeti, the Egyptian Pyramids, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and the Galapagos Islands.
The World Heritage Site designation follows several years of collaboration between the Lingle-Aiona Administration and the federal government, as well as environmental and cultural organizations to support the protection of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
In September 2005, after a three-and-a-half-year public process that resulted in more than 25,000 public comments, Governor Lingle established a State Marine Refuge in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that set aside all State waters as a limited access, no-take marine protected area. This created the largest marine conservation area in the history of the State, protecting 1,026 square miles of coral reefs from the shoreline to three miles offshore.
The Administration also worked closely with the federal government to ensure similar protections at the national level, which culminated with then President George W. Bush’s designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a marine national monument in June 2006. Shortly after, in March 2007, then First Lady Laura Bush and Governor Lingle announced the name Papahānaumokuākea for the 1,200-mile chain of atolls and reefs.
In January 2009, President Bush announced the nomination of Papahānaumokuākea as a UNESCO World Heritage site as a “mixed” site – for both its natural and cultural resource values – because of its unique geology, ecology, biology, Native Hawaiian cultural heritage, and its significance to the world.
The nomination package was led by the State of Hawai‘i and prepared collaboratively with various National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offices, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs with assistance and peer reviews provided by members of the Native Hawaiian community, National Park Service, Bishop Museum, academia, and international experts. ο