About the Refuge


One hundred years ago President Teddy Roosevelt set aside the reefs and islets of the Northwestern Hawaiian chain (except Midway Atoll) as the Hawaiian Islands Reservation. Later renamed the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the site was established to provide legal protection for the millions of seabirds inhabiting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at a time in our past when seabirds were being slaughtered by the thousands for their plumage and eggs.

Described as hosting "Alaskan sized resources on a mere 245,000 acres" this Refuge provides essential breeding grounds and nesting sites for endangered, threatened, and rare species some found nowhere else on the planet. On June 15, 2006, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, along with Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Kure Atoll was designated as Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. In 2010, the Monument was inscribed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site and in 2016 the Monument was expanded to 582,578 square miles (1,508,870 km2), nearly the size of the Gulf of Mexico. The Monument is protected and managed by four co-trustees — the Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, and the State of Hawai‘i joined by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. 

  • Nihoa Island

    nihoa thumbnail

    Nihoa is the youngest of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the tallest, with 900-foot vertical cliffs. It represents the southwestern part of the island’s former volcanic cone. Ancient Hawaiians might have stayed here long-term.

    Learn More
  • Mokumanamana (Necker Island)

    necker thumbnail

    Mokumanamana is hook shaped and 270 feet tall at its summit. Barren of vegetation, it was used by Hawaiians for religious purposes, but not for long-term habitation.

    Learn More
  • Lalo (French Frigate Shoals)

    tern thumbnail

    French Frigate Shoals is an atoll, the largest region of coral reefs in Hawai‘i, at 200 square miles. The atoll is composed of a dozen or so small islands.

    Learn More
  • Gardener Pinnacles

    gardner thumbnail

    Gardner Pinnacles is made up of two small basalt peaks, the last rocky island in Hawai‘i. While the island itself is tiny, the surrounding reef is expansive and diverse.

    Learn More
  • Maro Reef

    maroreef thumbnail

    Maro Reef is an extremely fertile reef system that has been described as a “coral garden.”

    Learn More
  • Laysan Island

    laysan thumbnail

    Laysan is a 913-acre, low, sandy island with a natural lake in its interior, one of only five such lakes in Hawai‘i.

    Learn More
  • Lisianski Island

    lisianski thumbnail

    Lisianski is only 400 acres and geologically akin to Laysan, without the lake. Though the island is slightly less biodiverse, the surrounding reef is very fertile.

    Learn More
  • Pearl and Hermes Atoll

    pearlhermes thumbnail

    Pearl and Hermes Atoll is very similar to French Frigate Shoals, but with much less dry land. For this reason, it was mostly ignored by guano miners and feather hunters.

    Learn More