The Pacific Islands of the United States are very much set apart from other U.S. regions. Not only geographically far away, but unique in their geography, culture, and reliance on the ocean. The actual land mass is relatively small. Made up of the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. But the waters of NOAA Fisheries jurisdiction there—1.7 million square nautical miles—is roughly equal to all other U.S. regions combined.
On this episode of Dive In with NOAA Fisheries, we talk Dr. Mike Seki, the Director of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. We dive into the many different surveys conducted in the Pacific Islands, from fisheries assessments to passive acoustics. We chat about our efforts to study marine mammal populations and help recover the Hawaiian monk seal—a species found only in the Hawaiian archipelago, which includes both the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These seals occur nowhere else in the world and are one of the most endangered seal species on the planet. We also discuss how NOAA Fisheries works with indigenous communities to strengthen fisheries management.
Later in the episode, we chat with Dr. Michelle Barbieri, the leader of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at the center and dive a little deeper into the conservation of monk seals. Tune in to find out how the Pacific Island Science Center protects and tracks monk seals. The majority of them live on a small, sparse islands of the sparse islands of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the main Hawaiian Islands. The monk seal population exceeded 1,500 in 2021. While this is definitely good news, the recovery is fragile, and challenges remain.