The name Koʻanakoʻa literally means the settling of coral, referring to Maro’s expansive coral reefs. Another name, Nalukakala, describes surf that arrives in combers, such as the surf that froths over shallow reefs. (PMNM)
In 1820, the ships Maro and Rambler of Nantucket, commanded respectively by Captains Joseph Allen and Benjamin Worth, in company with the Syren of London, rendezvoused at the Sandwich islands.
At this same time, Honolulu was described as a scattered, irregular village of thatched huts, of 3,000 or 4,000-inhabitants. (Maly)
Here they met Captain Winship of the ship O’Cane, a veteran northwest coast merchantman, who informed them that while crossing on his many voyages from the Sandwich Islands to Canton, China, he observed a great number of sperm whales off the coast of Japan. (Allen on the Maro is credited with discovering the “Japan Grounds.”)
One of the principal benefits to the economy of the Islands was the rendezvousing of the Pacific whaling fleets from the US and other countries at the various ports of the islands for many years, and the transshipment of oil and bone from these ports.
By 1820, the calls of whalers at Honolulu were quite frequent. Americans were quick to see the superiority of the islands for recruiting and refitting over other stations in the Pacific, and very soon all the American vessels in the Pacific, and quite a few from other countries, were touching at the islands regularly. (US Commission of Fish and Fisheries, 1901)
It was that year, after his discovery of Gardner Pinnacles, that Captain Joseph Allen on the Maro, sighted and named the reef after his whaling ship, Maro.
Maro Reef has less than one acre of periodically emergent land; at very low tide, only a small coral rubble outcrop of a former island is believed to break above the surface. As a result, Maro supports no terrestrial biota.
In contrast, the shallow water reef system is extensive, covering nearly a half-million acres and is the largest coral reef in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.)
It is also one of the chain’s most ecologically rich shallow water marine ecosystems, with 64-percent coral cover over the entire area, among the highest percentage observed in the Monument.
Unlike the classic ring-shaped atoll, Maro is a complex maze of linear reefs that radiate out from the center like the spokes of a wheel.
The documented marine biota at Maro Reef includes 37-species of corals and 142-species of reef fish. Fish species endemic to the Hawaiian Archipelago make up half of all fish recorded here.
Maro’s reefs are intricate and reticulated (like a net or network,) forming a complex network of reef crests, patch reefs and lagoons. Deepwater channels with irregular bottoms cut between these shallow reef structures.
Because the outermost reefs absorb the majority of the energy from the open ocean swells, the innermost reefs and aggregated patch reefs are sheltered and have the characteristics of a true lagoon. Given the structural complexity of this platform, its shallow reefs are poorly charted and largely unexplored. (PMNM)
While Maro Reef has very healthy reefs, it may be ‘on the verge of drowning’ because the reefs are narrow, unconnected, and unprotected from storm waves. Others feel that the health of the corals suggest that Maro Reef is a complicated reef system on a large seamount, living in balance with the elements. (FWS)
As Chair of the Board of the Land and Natural Resources I made the recommendation to the rest of the BLNR (and we then voted unanimously) to impose the most stringent measures to assure protection of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
In helping people understand why, I have referred to my recommendation to impose stringent protective measures and prohibit extraction as the responsibility we share to provide future generations a chance to see what it looks like in a place in the world where you don’t take something.
That action created Refuge rules “To establish a marine refuge in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for the long-term conservation and protection of the unique coral reef ecosystems and the related marine resources and species, to ensure their conservation and natural character for present and future generations.“ Fishing and other extraction is prohibited.
The BLNR’s action started a process where several others followed with similar stringent protective measures.
Koʻanakoʻa (Maro Reef) is now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a State and Federal (State of Hawaiʻi, Department of the Interior’s US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) co-managed marine conservation area.
The monument encompasses nearly 140,000-square miles of the Pacific Ocean – an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined.
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.) It is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the US and the second World Heritage Site in Hawaiʻi (Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park was inscribed in 1987.)