The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was created to protect and preserve the marine diversity and limit destructive human influence. This 140,000 square mile area contains some of the world’s most unique marine life. Turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and thousands of fish species live there. New evidence is showing that the marine life that resides in PMNM is even more diverse than previously thought. Scientists at NOAA have suggested that the percentage of fish that live in PMNM and nowhere else in the world is extremely high, especially those fish that are present in the deep reefs (100-300ft). Research is ongoing in the monument and it is thought that many species of fish still remain yet unknown.
Hawaii’s endemic fish are known worldwide for their unique coloring, behavior, and simply because there are so many species found around the Hawaiian archipelago and nowhere else. Almost 7000 species of fish reside in these waters, a testament to the sheer diversity of the area. In addition to the species endemic to the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters, there are 23 known endangered species in the monument. One species discovered in these waters is the masked angelfish. The masked angelfish females have a black ‘mask’ on their face; the males do not have this distinctive mask, but rather have orange dorsal and ventral fins. An interesting fact about these fish is that when a group of about 4 females are together and there is no male around, one of the females will switch genders and become the male of the group.
The Monument is a tribute to the importance of marine ecosystems and how important it is to conserve them to the best of our ability. The monument allows for the creatures living there to do so in peace, without threat of human interaction or destruction. Currently, no public visitors are allowed in the monument, only scientists conducting research are allowed in and out, and there is strict protocol to prevent any damage to the monument and its residents.
-by Emily Becker
Kane, Corinne; Kosaki, Randall K; Wagner, Daniel. High levels of mesophotic reef fish endemism in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Bulletin of Marine Science, February 2014