In brief: Science & Nature

  • Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is home to many species found nowhere else on Earth and is a critically important nesting ground for green sea turtles and breeding ground for Hawaiian monk seals. (Mark-Sullivan-NOAA/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Papahanaumokuakea marks 10 years as World Heritage Site

The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on Thursday celebrated its 10th anniversary as a World Heritage Site.


The designation, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), recognizes the monument as “one of the best examples of both the world’s cultural as well as natural heritage.”

It is one among 24 World Heritage sites in the United States, and one of two in Hawaii, along with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“A World Heritage site is part of an international community that appreciates and has concerns for universally significant properties,” said Athline Clark, NOAA superintendent of the monument in a news release. “Through a shared interest, countries join hands to protect and cherish the world’s natural and cultural heritage, expressed in a commitment to preserving our legacy for future generations.”

To be designated a World Heritage site, a country has to first nominate it, and then chosen by UNESCO.

The criteria include whether the site is important to the collective interests of humanity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in news release, as well as whether it represents a best example of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

The monument met multiple criteria under both the natural and cultural categories, and is one of only 39 global locations designated as a “mixed site.” Papahanaumokuakea is the only mixed World Heritage site within the U.S.

With the World Heritage site designation, Papahanaumokuakea gains world visibility and joins 1,121 other iconic sites around the globe, including the Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos Islands, Great Wall of China, and the Pyramid Fields of Egypt.

Papahanaumokuakea, a 1,350-mile stretch of coral isles, seamounts and shoals northwest of the main Hawaiian isle chain, is home to a diverse array of coral, fish, birds and marine mammals unique to Hawaii, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green sea turtle and 22 species of seabirds, including the Laysan albatross.

The area was established as a marine national monument in June 2006 by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act by former President George W. Bush. In 2016, former President Barack Obama expanded the monument an additional hundreds of thousands of square miles, quadrupling the size of the protected area under the same act.

Significance of gene mutations in cancers highlighted

An article explaining the biological and clinical characteristics of BAP1 Cancer Syndrome, and highlighting the significance of BAP1 mutations in human cancer, was recently published, with University of Hawaii Cancer Center researcher Michele Carbone as lead author. Written in collaboration with scientists from five other institutions across the nation, it was published in Cancer Discovery.

The BAP1 Cancer Syndrome, caused by inherited mutations of the BAP1 gene, was discovered by Carbone and his team at the UH Cancer Center in 2011. Since then, many affected individuals have been identified in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan and the Middle East.

This medical condition is characterized by the development of one and often multiple cancers in those who inherit mutations of the BAP1 gene. The most common cancers being mesothelioma, uveal and cutaneous melanoma, and clear-cell renal cell carcinoma.

“Identifying those who carry BAP1 gene mutations allows the establishment of cancer prevention and early detection measures to save their lives,” said Carbone.

The National Cancer Institute is conducting a clinical trial in collaboration with Carbone’s team, in which carriers of BAP1 mutations are given annual medical, radiological and serological tests for early detection at no cost. When required, participants also receive therapeutic intervention.

NOAA selects 2020 scholarship recipients

NOAA has chosen three graduate students to receive its Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarships, representing fields such as marine biology, oceanography and maritime archaeology. The award recognizes outstanding academic achievement and encourages independent research, particularly by female and minority students.

“This highly competitive scholarship program allows the next generation of NOAA scientists to grow intellectually and expand their knowledge while promoting the work and mission of the National Marine Sanctuary System,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), which administers the awards. “It presents an unmatched opportunity to provide these young scholars with guidance in the very beginning of their careers.”

Subject to appropriations, each recipient will receive an annual stipend of $30,000 and up to $12,000 annually as an education allowance. Additionally, recipients may receive up to $10,000 to support a four- to six-week research collaboration at a NOAA facility. Master’s students can receive up to two years of support, and doctoral students for up to four years.

The three scholarship recipients for 2020 are Brijonnay Madrigal, Sarah Hutchinson and Tamara Russell.

Madrigal, of the University of Hawaii at Manao, is a first-generation college graduate pursuing a Ph.D. in marine biology with an emphasis on marine mammal acoustics. Her research will focus on using passive acoustic monitoring techniques to understand the potential effects of anthropogenic noise on acoustic behavior of odontocete in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Hutchinson, of Hawaii Pacific University, is pursuing a master’s degree in marine science. Her research focuses on using the seabird Wedge-tailed Shearwaters as indicators of ecologically important areas and processes in the waters within and surrounding Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.


Russell, of the University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is pursuing a Ph.D. in biological oceanography. Her research will focus on seabird habitat use within the California Current, specifically understanding how west coast national marine sanctuaries capture areas that are important for seabird foraging.

The scholarship program was established in memory of Nancy Foster, Ph.D., a leader in marine resource conservation, a former assistant NOAA administrator for oceanic services and coastal zone management and past director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

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