The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, an area also known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, stretches for over a thousand miles to the west of Kauai in Hawaii. Small blips of reef and sand in the midst of the vast Northern Pacific Ocean, these islands and atolls provide nesting habitat for millions of sea birds, hundreds of sea turtles, and most of the 1,300 remaining critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals. The Monument is also located just south of the Pacific Trash Gyre, an area of ocean with exceptionally high concentrations of marine debris. That debris catches on coral reefs, washes ashore, and creates hazards for all of the wildlife living there.
Visit here to view a portfolio of photography from Papahānaumokuākea.
Access to the Monument is restricted almost entirely to scientific research and I’ve worked there during multiple field seasons with NOAA Marine Fisheries on Laysan Island, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, and Midway Atoll.
All photography and video displayed here was taken under NOAA/NMFS Permit No. 10137 and 16632 and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Permit No. PMNM-2010-001, PMNM-2012-001, PMNM-2013-001, and PMNM-2016-001.
Pearl and Hermes VR Movie:
Click and drag to look around inside of this 360-degree VR experience. Because of YouTube limitations, it’s only interactive in Firefox and Chrome web browsers. On mobile devises, go here to view on the YouTube app, where it’s also possible to use Google Cardboard and other VR headsets for optimal immersive viewing.
Midway VR Movie:
Experience the scenery and wildlife on Midway Atoll in this 6 minute virtual reality documentary. On mobile devices and VR headsets, go here to view in the YouTube app.
Midway Atoll 360-Degree Tour:
(click on the picture below for a tour of 15 panoramas)
Midway Atoll sits roughly halfway between North America and Asia in the northern Pacific Ocean. It has three official designations with the US government: as a National Wildlife Refuge, the Battle of Midway National Memorial, and part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The atoll is considered a territory of the US and not part of the State of Hawaii like the other Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are.
The atoll has had many uses and claims to fame, most memorably as a US naval base during WWII that was attacked by the Japanese from June 4-7th, 1942. The US victory in that battle was a turning point in war and one of its most important naval battles. During the Cold War, Midway served as a strategic airfield to monitor Soviet Russia and was home to as many as 4,000 servicemen and their families. The atoll held a school, golf course, movie theatre, church, and multiple runways, all on the 1,200 acres of Sand Island. The population wound down with the end of the Cold War and during the 1980’s and 90’s transitioned from military to civilian management administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Midway has always been important nesting ground for seabirds, currently over 3-million annually. Hawaiian Monk Seals raise pups on the wide, sandy beaches and forage for squid and fish on the atoll’s barrier reef. Green Sea Turtles haul out and bask in the sun alongside dozens of others. Despite pollution still remaining from the military and washing ashore daily from the Pacific Trash Gyre, Midway is a beautiful and isolated natural wonder.
Use this tour to explore 15 panoramas of the military ruins, current facilities and natural surroundings of Sand and Eastern Islands. Navigate through them by clicking on white arrow links or utilizing the interactive map found in the lower right corner.
Pearl and Hermes Atoll 360-Degree Tour:
Pearl and Hermes sits over a thousand miles west of Honolulu in the central northern Pacific Ocean. It’s one of several islands encompassed in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument established in 2006. Most of the remaining critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals live in these waters, as do threatened Green Sea Turtles and thousands of other endemic marine species. Sea birds nest on bits of land that stick above the water, including several species of endangered albatross. These islands are also covered in marine debris that washes ashore from the Pacific Trash Gyre located just north. Chemicals in plastic debris can poison the birds when they unknowingly ingest it and entanglement in abandoned fishing nets poses a serious threat to the turtles and seals.
Use the map and hotspots in this tour to navigate eight panoramas around the atoll and experience the animals, marine debris, and clear waters found there.
Pearl and Hermes Field Camp:
The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program field camp on Pearl and Hermes Atoll is set up every spring and occupied for several months at a time. These tents, solar panels, boats, and other equipment on Southeast Island are where biologists live and work during summer seasons while studying the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.
Explore these five panoramas to see inside of the tents and even the exposed view while sitting on the Lua (the Hawaiian name for an outhouse or toilet).
Pearl and Hermes at Night:
The night sky over Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands takes on two very different extremes. With no Moon, the darkness is only broken by starlight, the arc of the Milky Way and a few lanterns that we have in camp. When the Moon returns, though, it’s almost as if another sun has risen. Green Sea Turtles haul out on the beach in greater numbers, birds are more active, and life in camp no longer requires a flashlight.
These tents represent the temporary infrastructure of the Hawaiian Monk Seal research field camp, an annual summer deployment of NOAA biologists to assess the population of the critically endangered species.