The Hawaiian Islands Sentinel Site Cooperative is a compilation of sites that includes Midway and French Frigate Shoals in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), He‘eia Wetland Restoration project (He‘eia) on the island of O‘ahu, and Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. The Cooperative contains some of the most productive and unique ecological sites in US waters and is widely recognized as one of the most valuable ecological locations in the world, which is why Midway and French Frigate Shoals were included in the World Heritage Site designation of the NWHIs.
While separated by great distance, the sites are connected through circulation patterns, species migration, geological origin, and geographic isolation. Midway and French Frigate Shoals have experienced little human impact and remain relatively pristine while He‘eia and Kona Coast are more heavily populated and impacted. This human impact gradient provides a unique opportunity to assess how ecosystem health will be impacted for both pristine and heavily stressed ecosystems, thus making it possible to extrapolate out the influence of climate change. Geographic separation makes it imperative to have strong, well established partnerships. Long-standing relationships are being called upon to lead this Cooperative and include NOAA’s National Ocean Service in Midway and French Frigate Shoals, the National Marine Fisheries Service in Kona Coast, and the local non-profit Kako‘o ‘Oiwi in He‘eia. As issues of focus change and the Cooperative matures, partnerships will be expanded.
The strength of the Cooperative stems from each site having direct observation data record from several years to several decades. The reefs are some of the best studied in the world resulting in a strong baseline set of data and recent studies on connectivity and evolutionary time have increased our understanding of reef function and processes. The necessary infrastructure for accurate observations of climate change, including sea level and inundation, is in place and has been actively monitored and utilized for management decisions since installation. Because of the robust understanding of the reefs, sea level, and inundation frequencies and magnitudes, small changes will be more noticeable and more easily identified and understood.