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Wildlife & Habitat


The Refuge hosts some of the most productive wildlife real estate in the world for millions of native sea and land birds.  One square foot of vertical surface area can host up to ten different species of nesting birds all at the same time! Bonin petrels and shearwaters nest below the surface, while albatross and other ground nesters nest on the sandy surface. Meanwhile, high shrubs host the boobies and frigatebirds, and cliff side habitat protects blue-gray noddies. Although a few of the islands (notably Laysan, Tern, and Pearl and Hermes Atoll) were once decimated by introduced mammals and invasive plants, 30 years of active hands-on restoration, care and consistent scientific monitoring, the islands have now returned to a place where native wildlife reigns.  

  • Seabirds

    Laysan duck thumbnail

    Millions of central Pacific seabirds congregate on the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge to breed. They nest on beaches, cliff faces, and level ground. No place is really seabird-free during the nesting season. 

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  • Shorebirds

    BT curlew thumbnail

    Shorebirds are known for their extraordinary feats of migration, as some travel over 15,000 miles, fly three to four days nonstop, or fly at speeds exceeding 40 miles per hour. 

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  • Passerines

    Laysan finches

    The Refuge hosts a diverse and ecologically functioning island and marine ecosystem supporting millions of sea and land bird populations that include species that exist nowhere else on the planet. Unfortunately, their limited habitats and small population size make extinction of the species a vulnerable and real possibility. The planet lost three bird species within the Refuge (the Laysan honeycreeper, Laysan millerbird, and Laysan rail).

  • Mammals

    Hawaiian monkseal

    The majority of the world’s population of endangered Hawaiian monk seals lives within the refuge, but unfortunately the population has taken a dramatic decline over the past century with numbers waning to approximately 1,000.

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  • Reptiles


    Most of Hawai‘i’s green turtles hatch from French Frigate Shoals.

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  • Fish

    Reeffish & coral

    About 240 fish species were recorded in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands during a comprehensive fish survey conducted by the State of Hawai‘i in 1984. In 2000-2005 surveys, reef fish populations were found to be healthy and predatory fish, such as jacks and sharks dominate the seascape unlike over fished areas within main Hawaiian islands.

  • Plants


    Six plant species known historically from the NWHI are listed as endangered. Three plant taxa have probably always been rare and restricted to Nihoa, although one species, the loulu or fan palm, also occurred on Laysan Island. Mariscus pennatiformis ssp. bryanii is known only from Laysan Island. Cenchrus agrimonioides var. laysanensis was historically known from Laysan Island, Midway Atoll and Kure Atoll, but has not been seen there since about 1980. A recovery plan for three species found only at Nihoa (Nihoa fan palm, Schiedea verticillata, and Amaranthus brownii) was finalized in 1998 (FWS 1998). Recovery actions for the other three species (Cenchrus agrimonioides, Mariscus pennatiformis, and Sesbania tomentosa or ‘ohai) are described in the Recovery Plan for the Multi-Island Plants (FWS 1999). To view the Recovery Plans, go to Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office Recovery Plans.


Last Updated: Feb 06, 2015
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