NOAA 03-R425
Contact: Delores Clark
NOAA News Releases 2003
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s (NOAA) Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve announced today the opening of Mokupäpapa: Discovery Center for Hawaii’s Remote Coral Reefs, the new, interactive educational facility that utilizes a variety of learning tools to teach visitors and school students about Hawaii’s oldest islands and atolls. The Center emphasizes marine life, and the natural and cultural resources contained within the nation’s largest conservation area. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Mokupäpapa features a 2,500 gallon salt-water aquarium containing fishes found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), and offers colorful bilingual interpretive panels in English and Hawaiian, which explain the breadth and depth of the natural and cultural heritage of the region. Interactive exhibits with touch-screens and video vignettes cover topics ranging from giant, apex predators to tiny, yet poisonous invertebrates. The Center will enable visitors to explore for themselves what life on the reefs is like.

The Discovery Center contains a large program room that provides a theater environment for multimedia educational programs and classes. The program room is available to community groups for educational use.

“The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands represent over two-thirds of Hawaii and contain one of the healthiest marine environments in the world, yet few people know they exist,” said Robert P. Smith, manager for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. “Our hope is that this Discovery Center will bring these remote reefs and their abundant marine life to both residents and visitors so they can learn about the wonders of the ocean that we are all responsible to protect.”

“Mokupäpapa is a joint project of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program and the University of Hawaii,” explained Smith. “Working with UH-Hilo we are hoping to expand the educational opportunities of the center to include joint programming, curricula development and teacher training opportunities. Opening the doors of Mokupäpapa today represents our first step toward this goal.”

Mokupäpapa will be a great thing for Hawaii island and Hilo and will help teach our kids and visitors about the wonders of the ocean,” said Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim. “The thing that strikes me most about the center is its blend of natural and cultural history and respect for the Hawaiian culture. Native Hawaiians have been the best stewards of these islands for centuries, yet much of their traditional practices of ocean conservation have been lost with time and change. Mokupäpapa helps those who visit understand the importance of traditional values and need to protect not only our environment, but our native culture as well.”

“The center plays an important part of the growing science and cultural identity of East Hawaii," Kim explained. “The visitor industry on the Hawaii Island is largely fueled by independent travelers who are thirsty to learn about the natural history of Hawaii. Nearly 2.4 million people visit the island to see the Kilauea volcano erupt each year alone. These visitors will likely also be drawn to this facility

“The center is a terrific boost to Downtown Hilo,” said Steve Handy, president of the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association. “To have this kind of educational attraction standing alongside our outstanding museums, galleries and cultural centers, will definitely draw local families and travelers to our downtown. We hope that once it’s opened to the public, a greater level of awareness will be created regarding all of our Hawaiian Islands.”

“The Big Island is often overlooked in terms of providing new educational opportunities for students, especially in the arena of science,” said Hawaii’s Department of Education Resource Science Teacher Julie Williams. “Since most of us will never have the opportunity to visit these remote atolls and reefs, the Center provides us with a way to bring this place home to our students and teach them to care about our oceans, no matter how far away they seem.”

Mokupäpapa is the Hawaiian term for remote, low-lying islets and reefs, which appropriately describe most of the atolls in the northwestern chain. The atolls are coral ‘footprints’ of former large, volcanic islands stands, but have since subsided into the ocean over geologic time. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. with atolls.

Comprising two-thirds of the Hawaiian Archipelago, the longest chain of coral-ringed islands in the world, the NWHI are a mostly uninhabited chain of small islands, atolls, reefs and submerged banks that begin northwest of the populated main Hawaiian Islands. The majority of all coral reefs in the U.S. are in NWHI waters, and it is home to several federally protected species. On December 4, 2000, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was created by Executive Order to protect the federal waters surrounding these islands and atolls. The Reserve is the largest conservation project under the U.S. flag and is administered by NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program.

The Discovery Center is located on the first floor of the S. Hata Building at 308 Kamehameha Avenue along Hilo’s famous Bay Front. Admission is free to the public. Mokupäpapa will be open Tuesdays – Saturdays from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Group tours can be arranged through Jeff Kuwabara, Discovery Center manager, at (808) 933-8195.

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NMSP is conducting a sanctuary designation process to incorporate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the national sanctuary system.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service manages the NMSP and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. The National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

The Commerce Department’s NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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