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.  

  • Birds

    Laysan duck thumbnail

    There is a great deal of endemism within the Northwest Hawaii Islands. Birds such as the Laysan Duck, Laysan Finch, Nihoa Fish and Nihoa Millerbird are found nowhere else and as a result are at an increased risk for extinction.

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  • 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.

  • Invertebrates

    Seastar 150x100

    Only a few species of invertebrates have been studied with any type of regularity, but between coral and both marine and terrestrial invertebrates, there is a rich diversity within the Refuge.

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  • 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.