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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maro Reef is an extremely fertile reef system that has been described as a “coral garden.”
Laysan is a 913-acre, low, sandy island with a natural lake in its interior, one of only five such lakes in Hawai‘i.
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.
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.
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Until 2011, the Nihoa Millerbird was found only on Nihoa Island. Today, it thrives on Laysan Island due to translocation efforts by the USFWS and American Bird Conservancy.