Virtual Vacation: Dive Into Our Marine National Monuments

By Rosunnara Roth
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Photo Courtesy: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA Photo Library

Some parts of the ocean remain isolated and untouched, particularly marine national monuments. In fact, the country’s most precious sites in the ocean are protected by law. These living monuments are home to unique landscapes and endemic species, making them significant places to experience and learn about the environment.

One of these monuments has recently gained worldwide attention, but there are other important underwater monuments that many people don’t know about. We can’t physically visit these places, but we can still virtually tour them! Let’s take a deep dive into our marine national monuments.

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Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Located in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is one of the most secluded and untouched places in the world. U.S. jurisdiction forbids commercial fishing and mining activities here. Protecting the monument this way has helped save ecosystems where many vulnerable species live — species that include coral, marine mammals, birds, fish and vegetation that can’t be found anywhere else. However, other threats, like climate change and ocean acidification, can still impact this ancient environment.

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

Only scientists and educators are cleared to visit the monument, but luckily, we can virtually tour this underwater world. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument contains national wildlife refuges, including Palmyra Atoll, which is a remnant of a volcano from 65–120 million years ago. This refuge remains healthy and full of life thanks to conservation efforts. We can find scenic views of the stunning beaches and even underwater. For a deeper dive into the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, head down the Howland and Baker unit, where ecologists study the seafloor and sea cliffs.

Next, let’s head to another nearby national monument and explore.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Many creatures call the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument home, including green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and the masked booby bird. The monument’s coral reef ecosystem is a little different than others — it’s dominated by predators. Plus, this section contains at least 60 shipwrecks and submerged aircraft. One of the wrecks includes a WWII Japanese warship near the Midway Atoll.

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Photo Courtesy: NOAA Photo Library

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is also home to a rich history of Native Hawaiian culture. Ancient Polynesians sailed these waters and settled on these islands, worshipping all of the natural surroundings. Another historical fact about this monument is that it saw wartime activity during WWII. In fact, the Midway Atoll was used as a naval air station and was the site of a major naval battle between the U.S. and Japan.

Next stop: the Atlantic Ocean.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

There’s only one marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean — the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. It encompasses four undersea mountains and three deep-sea canyons. One of the seamounts actually formed more than 100 million years ago, when the ancient Kronosaurus lived in the ocean.

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Photo Courtesy: NOAA Photo Library

The monument supports a vibrant biodiversity that includes coral ecosystems and marine wildlife that depend on this site for food. However, these waters get a lot of visitors, such as whales, dolphins, seabirds, swordfish and sharks. Unfortunately, the monument’s health is under attack. On June 5, 2020, Donald Trump rolled back marine monument protections for commercial fishing. However, environmental groups are ready to fight back.

Let’s return to the Pacific for one more stop.

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Rose Atoll Marine National Monument

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument protects unique species that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. For instance, scientists saw seven types of reef fish for the first time in history here! Sadly, many species are also threatened or endangered, such as giant clams and reef sharks.

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Photo Courtesy: Wendy Cover/NOAA Photo Library

However, environmentalists are working hard to ensure this underwater world remains undisturbed. Where else can you find an abundance of rose-colored corals and a huge nesting site of hawksbill sea turtles? The monument is also a hotspot for predators, such as barracudas, snappers and jacks.

Support Organizations that Protect the Living Monuments

We’ve seen some extraordinary landscapes and unbelievable species in four impressive marine national monuments. It’s almost the end of our underwater adventure, but there are a couple of great causes that are helping to save the oceans — and that are worth our attention.

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Photo Courtesy: @marinesanctuary/Twitter

These monuments are known for their rich and unique biodiversity, and there are some amazing organizations that work to protect them. One is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a group of scientists, lawyers and activists who have a long history of environmental victories since 1970. Another great organization is the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. According to its website, its programs "center around science and conservation, connecting people and communities to sanctuaries, and creating the next generation of ocean stewards through in- and out-of-school education."

This may be the end of our ocean journey, but we have plenty of other virtual adventures waiting for you to explore.

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