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Midway Atoll / Papahanaumokuakea

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed legislation assigning stewardship responsibilities for Midway Atoll to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Midway Atoll was formally occupied by Captain William Reynolds, USN, of the USS Lackawanna, on August 28, 1867. An account of this occupation is given in Senate Ex. Doc. No. 79, Fortieth Congress, second session, and Senate Report No. 194, Fortieth Congress, third session. Shortly afterwards, the USS Saginaw, a Civil War-era side wheel gunboat, was assigned to support improvement efforts at Midway where a coal depot in support of transpacific commerce was to be built.

Further information in regard to the occupation of Midway may be found in a January 27, 1888, message to the U.S. Senate of the Honorable Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), President of the United States (1885-89 and 1893-97), who sent this message in response to a Senate resolution calling for correspondence touching the occupancy of the Midway Atoll harbor.

Midway's importance grew for commercial and military planners. In 1903, in response to U.S. Navy reports that large numbers of seabirds were being slaughtered for feathers and eggs, President Theodore Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 199A, placing Midway Atoll under control of the Navy. The first transpacific cable and station were in operation by 1903. In the 1930s, Midway became a stopover for the Pan American Airways' flying "clippers" (seaplanes) crossing the ocean on their five-day transpacific passage.

The United States was inspired to invest in the improvement of Midway in the mid-1930's with the rise of imperial Japan. In 1938 the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the lagoon during this period and, in 1938, Midway was declared second to Pearl Harbor in terms of naval base development in the Pacific. The construction of the naval air facility at Midway began in 1940. At this time, French Frigate Shoals was also a U.S. naval air facility. Midway also became an important submarine advance base. The reef was dredged to form a channel and harbor to accommodate submarine refit and repair. Patrol vessels of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier forces stationed patrol vessels at most of the islands and atolls.

Midway was of vital importance to both Japanese and American war strategies in World War II, and the raid in June 4 of 1942 is one of the most significant events in the history of the naval base. In June 1942, the Battle of Midway took place 100 to 200 miles north of Midway Atoll. Four Japanese aircraft carriers and one American carrier were sunk, and the Japanese military was forced to withdraw from a planned invasion. Although most of the battle took place far north, an intense air fight was waged directly over and around the atoll. Thirty-one crashes have been conclusively identified by archival research. Of these, 22 were American and 9 were Japanese. These crash sites are considered war graves.

The Battle of Midway is considered the most decisive U.S. victory and is referred to as the turning point of World War II in the Pacific. Midway Atoll has since been designated as a National Memorial to the Battle of Midway.

The historic seaplane hanger on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial's Sand Island was designed by the famous industrial architect Albert Kahn, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in late 1940 or '41 and was shelled during an air raid on December 7,1941 - the same night as the raid on Pearl Harbor. It was set afire by another Japanese air attack on June 4, 1942. Only half the original hanger was repaired and rebuilt after the battle. It is considered one of the most iconic remnants of the Battle of Midway. During World War II Sand Island was home to PBY Catalinas amphibious aircraft used for long range patrols, and Eastern Island had the runways for fighters and other aircraft. Today Sand Island has the active runway, the seaplanes are long gone, and the runways on Eastern Island are grown over.

French Frigate Shoals was used as an anchorage for U.S. Navy bi-winged seaplanes during World War II. They were stationed there as a response to the Japanese Imperial Navy's use of the atoll as a refueling area (using submarines) for their seaplanes. The Japanese had run nighttime reconnaissance flights of Pearl Harbor prior to the attack, and even dropped a few bombs in Punchbowl Crater before the seaplanes returned to their base in the Marshall Islands. During WWII up to twenty-two U.S. seaplanes were stationed at French Frigate Shoals, and flew 100-mile-radius reconnaissance flights.

La Prouse Pinnacle at French Frigate Shoals is a basalt rock outcrop rising 122 feet from the lagoon. It is a remnant of the twelve million year old volcano that once rose far above the ocean's surface. The lava rock composing the pinnacle is exceptionally dense, and is thought to have originated from the throat of the main volcanic cone. In 1786 two French frigate ships, the Astrolabe and the Boussole, under the command of Count La Prouse nearly ran aground at the shoals. On November 6, 1786 at about half past 1 AM on a calm moonlit night the Boussole mistook the white, guano covered sides of the pinnacle for the sails of her sister ship, the Astrolabe and steered toward her. At the last moment before running upon the reef the crew spotted breaking waves and narrowly steered clear. The pinnacle is named in honor of this event.

The string of small islands, atolls and reefs are the last or only habitat for some of the worlds most endangered species, and the region holds status as a sacred place in the history, culture, and cosmology of Native Hawaiian people. It includes one of the worlds last apex predator- dominated coral reef ecosystems, abounding in sharks and jacks, a feature characteristic of reefs prior to significant human exploitation. A spectacular example of evolution in isolation, with a very high degree of terrestrial endemism occurring and the highest known degree of endemism for any marine ecosystem. An unparalleled example of the later stages of volcanic island subsidence and atoll formation.

In 2008 the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, designated the Monument as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). This designation allows for the implementation of a ship reporting system, called CORAL SHIPREP, requiring all transiting vessels with the intent to enter a U.S. port or place of a certain size to notify when entering and exiting Monument boundaries; other international transiting vessels are recommended by the IMO to avoid Monument waters or participate in the reporting system. The Monument was the second marine protected area in the United States to receive PSSA designation. It joined ten (now 14) other PSSAs worldwide, including the Florida Keys, the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (1,508,870 square kilometers) - an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. The name Papahanaumokuakea commemorates the union of two Hawaiian ancestors Papahanaumoku and Wakea who gave rise to the Hawaiian Archipelago, the taro plant, and the Hawaiian people.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was established by Presidential Proclamation 8031 on June 15, 2006 under the authority of the Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 431-433). It was expressly created to protect an exceptional array of natural and cultural resources. A year later, it was given its Hawaiian name, Papahanaumokuakea.

The extensive coral reefs found in Papahanaumokuakea - truly the rainforests of the sea - are home to over 7,000 marine species, one quarter of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Many of the islands and shallow water environments are important habitats for rare species such as the threatened green turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, as well as the 14 million seabirds representing 22 species that breed and nest there. Land areas also provide a home for four species of bird found nowhere else in the world, including the world's most endangered duck, the Laysan duck.

Papahanaumokuakea is of great importance to Native Hawaiians, with significant cultural sites found on the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana, both of which are on the National and State Register for Historic Places. Mokumanamana has the highest density of sacred sites in the Hawaiian Archipelago and has spiritual significance in Hawaiian cosmology.

Papahanaumokuakea is also home to a variety of post-Western-contact historic resources, such as those associated with the Battle of Midway and 19th century commercial whaling.

On July 30, 2010, Papahanaumokuakea was inscribed as a mixed (natural and cultural) World Heritage Site by the delegates to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) 34th World Heritage Convention in Brasilia Brazil. It is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States and the second World Heritage Site in Hawai?i.

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