A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) makes clear that the worst elements of climate change–sea-level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, etc.–will make life very difficult for the diverse variety of life that exists in the 139,797-square mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The 99-page report on the future of the monument (and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in general) is holistic in nature, meaning that it’s based “on a series of expert workshops, interviews with resource managers and scientists, and a thorough review of available literature,” according to an Aug. 23 news release from NOAA.
The report lays out in stark terms exactly climate change spells trouble for the marine monument. According to an Aug. 23 news release from NOAA,
Projected sea-level rise, combined with likely increases in the strength of storms and ocean wave energy, means that low-lying islands within the monument will be flooded, harming endangered birds such as the Laysan duck and Laysan finch, as well as large populations of seabirds. Increased coastal erosion over the next 50 to 100 years will also deprive endangered Hawaiian monk seals and threatened sea turtles of beaches for nesting or haul-out areas. Coral reefs will also degrade because of increasing bleaching and coral disease.
“Existing evidence suggests that the monument’s northernmost atolls may be among the first ecosystems to be irrevocably impacted by global climate change, thus providing early indications of what we can expect to see in other locations going forward,” said Dan Polhemus, Ph.D., a co-author of the report, in the Aug. 23 news release. “In this regard, documenting climate change impacts in PMNM can provide important regional perspectives and help raise global awareness about this major threat.”
Put simply, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will change dramatically over the next century, and not for the better. The report mentions “periodic inundation for the low-lying islands,” the possibility of “more extreme weather events” and states that “changes in ocean circulation patterns are likely.” These changes will have dire consequences that transcend the ecology of the islands. According to the Aug. 23 NOAA news release,
As sea surface temperatures increase, areas that already are showing reduced ability to maintain sustainable levels of ocean life are expected to expand, limiting available prey for predator species like seals and large birds. Species of special significance to Native Hawaiians, like ’opihi, a Hawaiian limpet which grazes on algae, and other species that prey on plankton and crustaceans, will also see their sources of food decline. For some of these species unique to the Hawaiian Islands, the ability to alter their reproductive and feeding habitats may not occur quickly enough to keep up with climate change.
Click here to read the report for yourself.
Click here to read our June, 2016 story on U.S. Senator Brian Schatz’s plan to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Photo of juvenile Hawaiian monk seal on Tern Island: Mark Sullivan/NOAA Fisheries