You are here: Skip Navigation LinksHomeEcosystemsNational Marine SanctuariesA Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to Support the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

A Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to Support the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Quick Link to Products


The Biogeography Branch of NOAA's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA) and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PNMN) of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) partnered to develop a comprehensive biogeographic assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). The CCMA/PNMN-led investigation has four major working objectives:

  1. Identify and compile priority biological, physical and environmental data for the NWHI;
  2. Define significant biological areas or "hot spots" based on species distributions, abundance, habitats and community metrics;
  3. Define ecological linkages of living marine resources and habitats; and
  4. Organize all data and information into digital products for incorporation into the Monument’s geographic information system (GIS).

Project Summary

In an effort to protect the unique biological, ecological and cultural resources of the NWHI, President George W. Bush established the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument on June 15, 2006 under the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was later renamed the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The Monument is one of the largest marine conservation areas on earth protecting 139,797 mi2. It includes a number of preexisting federal conservation areas: the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Battle of Midway National Memorial. National Monument status ensures the immediate, comprehensive, strong and lasting protection of the region’s resources.

Defining biogeographic patterns of living marine resources found throughout the NWHI was identified as a priority activity at a May 2003 workshop designed to outline scientific and management information needs for the Monument (Alexander et al., 2004). NOAA’s Biogeography Branch and the PMNM, under the direction of the ONMS, designed and implemented this biogeographic assessment to directly support the research and management needs of the PMNM, such as minimizing impacts of permitted research activities on NWHI marine resources.

This assessment provides a suite of spatially-articulated products for use by the Monument and its partners to support ecosystem-based management and the long-term, comprehensive protection and conservation of the Monument’s marine resources. Additionally, the study complements research activities underway by major partnering organizations including the NWHI CRER, the state of Hawaii, NOAA Fisheries, the University of Hawaii, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Biogeographic Assessment Process

A Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands characterizes the physical and biological environments (e.g., oceanography, habitats) that structure the spatial and temporal distribution of living marine resources within and adjacent to the Monument’s boundaries. The biogeographic assessment approach was developed by the Biogeography Branch in consultation with the ONMS in 2003 (Kendall and Monaco 2003; Monaco et al., in press). The NWHI assessment builds on lessons learned from several earlier biogeographic assessments completed by the Biogeography Branch, as well as assessments currently underway. An example of a biogeographic assessment and associated products can be viewed at the Biogeographic Assessment of the Central and Northern California NMS site.

Typically, a biogeographic assessment is comprised of the three primary components: 1) Data compilation; 2) Data Analyses; and 3) Product development (Figure 1). A key tool used to develop and implement the assessment is the use of GIS technology to aid in data compilation, spatial analyses, and visualization of results to support place-based management needs (Battista and Monaco, 2004).

illustrated flowchart: the biogeographic assessment process
Figure 1. The biogeographic assessment process.

The process shown in Figure 1 is based on geospatial and temporal analyses of existing physical and biological data and results in many spatially-oriented products that are designed to help managers better understand how the NWHI ecosystem functions. These analyses aid in defining the strength of coupling between habitats and species to spatially define areas of ecological significance (NOAA, 2003; Monaco et al., 2005).

Potential uses of the biogeographic assessment include defining and evaluating areas that are candidates for management by marine zoning, permitting and targeted enforcement. For example, the Monument has delineated draft boundaries for Special Preservation Areas and Ecological Reserves to protect areas of high ecological significance to the Hawaiian archipelago. The results of the biogeographic assessment process provide managers with the information needed to evaluate the efficacy of these zones.


report cover

A Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is available for free download. To request a hard copy or a CD version of the report, please email .


NOTE:All documents listed below are in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. For issues with downloading, see these downloading tips.

Individual Chapters
Maps and Imagery
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2003. Atlas of the Shallow-Water Benthic Habitats of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Draft). Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, Silver Spring, MD. 160 pp.
    For digital data click here


Relevant Links

Time Frame

Completed: July 2005 - May 2009

For More Information

Project Manager:
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

USGS, Hawaii Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit
University of Hawaii


  • Battista, T. A. and M.E. Monaco. 2004. Geographic information systems applications in coastal marine fisheries. Pages 189-208 In: W.L. Fisher and F.J. Rahel, editors, Geographic information systems in fisheries. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.
  • Friedlander, A.M. and E.E. DeMartini. 2002. Contrasts in density, size, and biomass of reef fishes between the northwestern and the main Hawaiian islands: the effects of fishing down apex predators. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Vol 230: 253-264.
  • Kendall, M.S., and M.E. Monaco. 2003. Biogeography of the National Marine Sanctuaries: A partnership between the NMSP and NCCOS. Silver Spring, MD, 15p.
  • Monaco, M.E., M.S. Kendall, J. Higgins, C. Alexander, and M. Tartt, (2005) Biogeographic assessments of NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries: The integration of ecology and GIS to aid in marine management boundary delineation and assessment, in Wright, D.J. and Scholz, D.J. (Eds.), "Place Matters: Geospatial Tools for Marine Science, Conservation, and Management in the Pacific Northwest," Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2005.
  • NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) 2003. A biogeographic assessment off North/Central California: To support the joint management plan review for Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries: Phase I - Marine fishes, birds, and mammals. Prepared by NCCOS's Biogeography Branch in cooperation with the National Marine Sanctuary Program. Silver Spring, MD 145 pp.