Legal Protections

Learn more about the laws on the books (State, Federal) which govern and set forth standards for protecting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).

Beginning in 2000, and for six years following, fishers, divers, scientists, cultural practitioners, conservation advocates, and other concerned members of the public attended over 30 public hearings and 100 public meetings--all sending a clear message about their vision for the future of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). In all, over 100,000 public comments were submitted in support of full conservation for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

This dedicated public advocacy ultimately helped to win a committment from both the State of Hawai'i and the U.S. Federal government for full conservation of this fragile, wild, and uniquely Hawaiian place.

The Promise in Practice:  The "Web of Protections"

Moli nurturing egg in NWHIThere are a number of laws on the books (State, Federal) which govern and set forth standards for protecting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Together, these laws form a "web of protections" which--when implemented and properly enforced-- ensure the public vision for preserving this important area in its "natural character."

The most significant in this web of protections are the Hawai'i NWHI State Refuge and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Both the refuge and the monument were designated after an outpouring of over 100,000 public comments in support of full conservation for the NWHI.

Together, the Hawaii NWHI State Refuge and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument today comprise one of the largest marine reserves in the world.

The protected area encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (105,564 square nautical miles). It spans a distance that is approximately equivalent to driving halfway across the North American continent, east to west.


The State NWHI Refuge

On September 29, 2005, Governor Linda Lingle signed visionary regulations that established a protective refuge in state waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These protections were critical in setting the standard in the then-ongoing effort to determine the level of federal protections for the area.

The refuge rules are guided by a precautionary principle of "do no harm," and prohibit commercial and recreational fishing in state waters, while protecting Native Hawaiian traditional and cultural practices. State water extend three miles from most of the islands, which are protected as US Wildlife Refuges.

KAHEA and the NWHI hui of organizations and individuals worked incredibly hard to raise public awareness about the importance of demanding the strongest possible protection for this fragile reef ecosystem and cultural pu'uhonua (sanctuary). As a result, the state's Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) received more than 24,000 public comments, which helped to shape the establishment of this visionary state marine refuge.

Today, we are working to ensure that this promise for full conservation is fulfilled.

State NWHI Refuge Rules:

HAR 60-5, Hawai‘i Administrative Rules for the NWHI Refuge, September 2005 (with maps)

Narrative of the Rules creating the State Refuge in the NWHI (89k PDF) Aug. 23, 2002. This document, produced by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources in August 2002, reflects the dramatic improvement in the state's refuge plan after hearing consistent public demands for the strongest possible protections in the NWHI. Extensive public hearings were held through May 2005. The Governor signed these rules in September 2005.

The Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument

The vast waters of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands managed by the Federal government were declared a national marine monument in a presidential proclamation signed on June 15, 2006 in Washington, D.C.

Prior to the Monument proclamation, two processes were under consideration for the federally-managed waters of the NWHI: the NWHI National Marine Refuge Act, and the sanctuary designation process under NOAA. It was through these two processes that the public expressed overwhelming support--over 100,000 comments over six years--for full conservation in the NWHI. The signing on the Pahānaumokuākea Monument proclamation was the culmination of a long and contentious public process, and was made possible in great part thanks to the tremendous level of continuous support and involvement by the public.

The Monument proclamation ended the question of whether the proposed federal sanctuary or marine refuge would provide the needed legal protections for this fragile ecosystem.

Under the proclamation, the Monument:

  • Fully protects Native Hawaiian traditional, cultural, and religious practices within the NWHI
  • Phases out commercial fishing (existing 8 boats) by 2011
  • Prohibits wast dumping, use of poisons, and anchoring within the Monument
  • Ensures co-management of this public trust resource, by the State of Hawaiʻi (DLNR), the Department of Commerce (NOAA), and the Department of the Interior (FWS) as equal partners in management
  • Builds on existing protections in the State NWHI Refuge, the existing Executive Orders 13178 & 13196
  • Eliminates recreational fishing and other recreational activity
  • Strictly limits and oversees visits to Midway Atoll
  • Bans all resource extraction forever
  • Carefully regulates all educational and scientific activities, allowing only research that directly furthers management and restoration of Monument resources.


Monument Laws and Regulations:

Presidential Proclamation Establishing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (124K PDF) June 15, 2006.

Monument Regulations: Released by the Departments of Interior (USFW) and Commerce (NOAA). The regulations reflect the terms of the proclamation and emphasize that management of the NWHI Monument is with all co-trustees.

Monument Proclamation in the Federal Register. Read the Federal Register Notice (954 KB PDF)

Document Actions