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A Look at the Vast Waters and Rich Diversity of Marine Life in the U.S. Pacific Islands

June 02, 2022

Listen in to learn how surveys support seafood and fishing central to the Pacific Islands culture and economy, as well as how our scientists study, recover, and care for endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004. NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004. Homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette is a multipurpose oceanographic research vessel that conducts fisheries assessments, physical and chemical oceanography research, marine mammal and marine debris surveys. The ship operates throughout the central and western Pacific Ocean. Credit: NOAA/Ray Boland.
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Diver conducts survey of ecosystem in Pacific Islands.

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.

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Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach at French Frigate Shoals (Lalo) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Hawaiian monk seal resting on the beach at French Frigate Shoals (Lalo) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

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.