The surprise Japanese attack on December 7, 1941 changed the history of the Pearl Harbor forever, making it challenging to think of anything else when someone even mentions the place. It’s important, however, to not forget that Pearl Harbor is more than just a memorial for a devastating day in American history. Among the memorials and exhibits, the harbor is also a living, breathing natural habitat, home to a multitude of wildlife.

As you make your way through the historical landmarks in the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, consider not just the impact on human life in the area but also on the wildlife that calls the harbor home.

The Local Ecology

Ae’o

Along with memorials dedicated to the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma, Pearl Harbor is also home to a National Wildlife Refuge that aims to keep safe the many waterbirds, endangered plant life, and other creatures of the sea that have been calling the area home since long before man’s presence.

If you look closely and pay attention, you’ll get the chance to observe the majesty of some of Hawaii’s tropical lifeforms, from the endangered, long-legged Ae’o to the ‘Akoko shrub. While you’re getting lost in the somber emotions of the Pearl Harbor exhibits, why not give yourself a break to snap pictures of the ‘Alae‘ula or the Koloa maoli, colorful and distinctive waterfowl.

Beneath the surface, hidden within the cracks of the underwater rock, are Anchialine shrimp. These translucent critters are rare beauties that, while you may not be able to see them from the surface, are a symbol of how important something like the Pearl Harbor Wildlife Refuge really is. It’s a means of protecting Hawaii’s natural history, a past that is threatened by the growing presence of man in the area.

The Refuge

Standing atop the deck of the Battleship Missouri—just as the Allied and Japanese leaders did during the signing of surrender documents—and looking out into the distance, you see the beautiful stretch of open terrain that plays host to the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.

Koloa maoli

It borders the historically significant sites, including the USS Arizona wreckage and the towering Battleship Missouri, but the wildlife encompassed in this sliver of the harbor has been around far longer than any remnants of the 1941 attack.

Established in 1972, the refuge was the result of an order to protect the wildlife that was starting to feel the weight of the industrialized harbor and abundance of activity along Oahu’s coastline. Protecting this natural beauty is as important as sustaining the massive warships that serve to remind us of the events of December 7th, 1941.

Mixing Nature and History

As you’re exploring the unforgettable exhibits of Pearl Harbor, pause to also consider that which lies beyond the memorials and remember that humanity wasn’t the only thing that suffered a devastating blow that day. The continuously-leaking oil of the sunken USS Arizona serves as a poignant means of remembering the men lost, but it’s still having a lasting impact on the wildlife that calls the harbor home.

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