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Location USA, Hawaii
Central coordinates 168o 54.00' West  25o 1.20' North
IBA criteria A1, A2, A4i, A4ii, A4iii
Area 36,206,100 ha
Altitude 0 - 274m
Year of IBA assessment 2009


Site description The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Important Bird Area coincides with the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which was established in 2006 and is the largest marine conservation area in the world. This vast, remote, and largely uninhabited area encompasses 362,061 square km of the central Pacific Ocean between 22? N and 30? N latitudes and 161? W and 180? W longitudes. The monument is 1,931 km long and 161 km wide and extends from subtropical latitudes to the northern limit of coral reef development. It includes 10 islands that were formed sequentially as the Pacific plate moved northwest over a hot spot, producing a series of shield volcanoes 7.3 million to 29.8 million years old. Erosion and subsidence has reduced these ancient volcanoes to small rocky islands or low atolls. Three of the easternmost islands (Nihoa, Necker, and Gardner Pinnacles) are steep and rocky. French Frigate Shoals is a near-atoll that contains two remnant volcanic pinnacles. Laysan and Lisianski are raised atolls. Maro, Pearl and Hermes, Midway, and Kure are true atolls with roughly circular rims and central lagoons. The islands have a total land area of 1350 hectares. All but four of them have an average height of less than 10 m, and the highest point is 274 m on Nihoa. The climate is mild year-round, with moderate humidity, persistent northeasterly trade winds, and infrequent storms. Annual rainfall averages 29 inches at French Frigate Shoals. Terrestrial habitats include sandy and rocky shores, coral rubble and reef flats, dunes, dry grassland and shrubland, rocky cliffs, a hypersaline lake on Laysan, and freshwater wetlands and water catchments on Midway and Kure. Marine habitats include abyssal basins over 4,500 m deep, submarine escarpments, banks at depths of 30-400 m, coral reefs, and shallow lagoons. These waters are critical foraging grounds for seabirds and provide a refuge from overfishing for pelagic fishes upon which many seabirds depend for efficient foraging.

Key Biodiversity Seabird colonies in the NWHI constitute one of the largest and most important assemblages of tropical seabirds in the world, with over 14 million birds of 21 species and 5.5 million birds breeding annually. They contain 99% of the worlds Laysan Albatrosses and 98% of the worlds Black-footed Albatrosses. The Laysan Albatross colony on Midway is the largest albatross colony in the world at over 617,000 pairs. Populations of several other seabirds are of global significance, including Bonin Petrel, Christmas Shearwater, Tristrams Storm-petrel, Gray-backed Tern, and Blue-gray Noddy. A few endangered Short-tailed Albatross have occasionally laid eggs on Midway, most of which have been infertile, but a single chick was fledged in 2011. Most seabirds breeding in the NWHI are pelagic feeders that obtain much of their food by associating with schools of large predatory fish, such as tuna and billfish. These seabirds are most successful at feeding their young when they can find schools of fish within commuting range of breeding colonies. The waters surrounding the islands are thus a crucial aspect of the ecosystem upon which these birds depend and an integral component of the IBA. Four species of endangered birds are endemic to the NWHI, the Nihoa Finch, Nihoa Millerbird, Laysan Finch, and Laysan Duck. The Laysan Finch is relatively numerous, but populations of Nihoa Finch and Nihoa Millerbird are very small. In 2011, 24 Millerbirds were translocated from Nihoa to Laysan, where an endemic subspecies formerly occupied until 1923. Some birds are already nesting, but whether a breeding population becomes established remains to be seen. Laysan Ducks were once found throughout the Hawaiian Islands and were recently reintroduced to Midway, where a small population of about 50 birds is thriving. Forty-seven species of shorebirds have been recorded in the NWHI. Most of these are infrequent visitors or vagrants, but the Monument supports significant populations of four migrants, Pacific Golden Plover, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Wandering Tattler, and Ruddy Turnstone. Most of these birds arrive in July and August and return to the arctic to breed in May, but some younger birds may skip breeding their first summer and remain in the Monument.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Laysan Duck Anas laysanensis resident  2005  631 mature individuals  good  A1, A2, A4i  Critically Endangered 
Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes breeding  2007  55,900 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Near Threatened 
Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis breeding  2007  617,000 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Near Threatened 
Bonin Petrel Pterodroma hypoleuca breeding  2007  315,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica breeding  1984  225,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Christmas Shearwater Puffinus nativitatis breeding  1984  2,700 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii breeding  1984  90,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Tristram's Storm-petrel Hydrobates tristrami breeding  1984  5,500 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Near Threatened 
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda breeding  1984  9,200 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Great Frigatebird Fregata minor breeding  1984  9,900 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra breeding  1984  1,700 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Red-footed Booby Sula sula breeding  1984  7,900 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva non-breeding  2000  1,992 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis non-breeding  2004  800 individuals  good  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres non-breeding  2000  3,478 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Procelsterna cerulea breeding  1984  3,500 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Not Recognised 
Grey-backed Tern Onychoprion lunatus breeding  1984  43,000 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus breeding  1984  1,500,000 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus breeding  1984  75,000 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Black Noddy Anous minutus breeding  1984  13,000 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Common White Tern Gygis alba breeding  1984  11,000 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Millerbird Acrocephalus familiaris resident  2007  481-1,147 males only  good  A1, A2  Critically Endangered 
Nihoa Finch Telespiza ultima resident  2007  2,060-3,550 mature individuals  good  A1, A2  Critically Endangered 
Laysan Finch Telespiza cantans resident  1968-1990  5,000-20,000 mature individuals  medium  A1, A2  Vulnerable 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds breeding  1984-2005  1,570,000 breeding pairs  good  A4iii   
A4iii Species group - seabirds breeding  1984-2007  1,338,500 breeding pairs  good  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2009 medium not assessed high

Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: large scale happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: subsistence/small scale past (and unlikely to return) and no longer limiting whole area/population (>90%) slow but significant deterioration low
Climate change and severe weather storms and floods likely in long term (beyond 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration medium
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution industrial & military effluents - type unknown/unrecorded happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying bird species  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  high 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument 34,136,200 protected area contained by site 34,136,200  
Papahānaumokuākea World Heritage Site 36,207,500 protected area contains site 36,206,100  

Land ownership All of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are owned by the U.S. government except Kure, which is owned by the State of Hawaii.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016

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