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Hawaiian Islands
National Wildlife Refuge

800 miles northwest of the
main Hawaiian Islands, HI   
E-mail: PMNMLogistics@fws.gov
Phone Number:
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Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge

The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Established in 1909 by Theodore Roosevelt's Executive Order 1019, the refuge covers the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with the exception of Midway and Kure Atolls.

It consists of a chain of islands, reefs, and atolls, including Nihoa, Necker, French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, and Pearl and Hermes Reef. These remote islands extend about 800 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. The many small islands provide bare rocky, lowland shrub and grass, sand, and wetland habitat for over 30 species and 14 million breeding sea birds, wintering shorebirds, and endangered endemic songbirds and waterfowl.

These islands and reefs also provide breeding and foraging habitat for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the threatened Hawaiian green turtle. The over 1,805,403 acres of submerged coral reefs are home to over 7,000 species of coral, algae, mollusks, fish, crustaceans, and other marine vertebrates and invertebrates. Visitation to the refuge is by special use permit only.

Extensive information on the refuge is available at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Multi-Agency Education Project Web sites.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The refuge is a chain of eight islands, reefs, and atolls extending about 800 miles northwest from main Hawaiian Islands.

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Polynesian navigators began voyaging across the Pacific Ocian about 300 B.C. or earlier in large double-hulled canoes, guided by stars, currents, and weather patterns. Over the next 1,300 years, these wayfinders would leave their mark on the Polynesian triangle, an area of more than 10 million square miles. Its corners are settlements on Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the west, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east, and the Hawaiian archipelago in the north.

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The refuge is closed to the public.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
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Management Activities
The staff of the Hawaiian Islands Refuge is engaged in numerous activities to monitor, manage, and restore species and habitats on the refuge. Seabird monitoring is a principal focus at the Tern Island Field Station, where reproductive success, population, survival and numerous other aspects of the biology and status of 18 species of seabirds are monitored year-round. Nesting of the threatened Hawaiian green turtle is monitored each year on several islets at French Frigate Shoals.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy converted Tern Island from a 6-acre sandbar into a rectangular patch with a 3,000-foot landing strip. They built up the island by erecting a 3,420-foot sheet-metal seawall and filling it with coral debris. The warm saltwater environment has severely corroded the interlocking plates in seawall, creating numerous breaks, slumps, and sinkholes.

The coral fill has leaked out, and the plates have become an entrapment hazard to endangered monk seals and threatened sea turtles. The seawall is now being rebuilt for about $12 million. This project will also protect wildlife habitat by containing PCBs, asbestos, petroleum, lead, and dioxin from military landfills that are eroding due to wave action through the seawall.

An extensive habitat restoration project (initiated in 1992) is underway on Laysan Island, where the refuge maintains a year-round field camp. The alien grass Cenchrus echinatus (the common sandbur) was threatening native vegetation and, therefore, endangered species habitat.

This invasive weed is being removed. Natural restoration is occurring in the wake of this removal, and the refuge staff is investigating the feasibility of reintroducing terrestrial invertebrate, plant and one land bird species that were extirpated from the island, but which still occur within the Hawaiian Archipelago.

The refuge is part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument Marine National Monument. Established in 2006, the 137,797 square mile monument is the largest marine conservation area in the world. The refuge is managed in accordance with the National Refuge System Improvement Act and the proclamation that established the monument, close coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Hawaii.

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