The Greatest Management Challenge

As far as marine protected areas go, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is pretty unique. It is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world and has been recognized by the United Nations as mixed World Heritage site, meaning that it possesses immense biological and cultural significance.

Fish Wong
Reef at Papahānaumokuākea Credit: Kaleomanuiwa Wong

While we did not travel all the way to the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to see this remarkable place firsthand, we were fortunate to be able to speak with several of the Monument’s Management Board members about the challenges of managing the single largest protected area (terrestrial or marine) in the United States.

To give you an idea of the sheer scope of Papahānaumokuākea, the Monument covers an area of 362,073 square kilometers (Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument). An area that is slightly smaller than the land area of the State of Montana (the fourth largest state in the U.S.) or roughly equivalent to 67,661,666 NFL football fields.

Monument Map
Map of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Credit: NOAA


Unlike some of the other marine management challenges we have discussed over the course of our Hawaiian adventure, our discussion of Papahānaumokuākea focused on the challenges of managing people rather than managing how people interact with the environment. So continuing with our theme of learning how stuff gets done, we spoke with the Monument’s Management Board about the challenges associated with getting different federal and state agencies to work together and how people’s personalities factor into marine management decisions.

One of the things that really stood out to me from out conversation with the Monument’s Management Board was the challenge of managing such a remote area. While opportunities for “virtual visiting” are possible through technological developments like the street view feature of Google Earth, few people currently have the opportunity to see Papahānaumokuākea first hand; raising the question of  how do you get people to care about a place that they have never visited. Even the people who are responsible for managing Papahānaumokuākea have limited opportunities to visit the Monument.

Yet, despite the physical remoteness of the Monument, all of the managers we spoke with highlighted that their greatest management challenge was getting the Monument’s Management Board to function smoothly: addressing the human-human interactions. This focus on blending different interests of all the individuals at the table shows that marine management is not all about managing humans and the environment but sometimes is just about managing people.

Many thanks to Maria Carnevale (DLNR), Dan Polhemus (FWS), Keola Lindsey (Office of Hawaiian Affairs), and Samantha Brooke (National Marine Fisheries Service) for sharing their time with us to discuss how the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is managed.