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Hawaii is a gorgeous island paradise located in the Pacific Ocean. Its turquoise waters, black sand beaches, and lush green landscapes make it a dream vacation spot for millions each year.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Pacific Ocean surrounds the Hawaiian islands on all sides.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what ocean borders Hawaii, the name of that ocean, how the Hawaiian islands formed in the middle of the ocean, the unique ecosystems that developed due to Hawaii’s isolation, and the many aquatic species found in the waters surrounding the islands.

The Pacific Ocean Surrounds Hawaii

Hawaii is located in the central northern Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,500 miles from the U.S. mainland. This tropical archipelago is completely surrounded by the vast Pacific, the largest and deepest ocean in the world.

The Pacific stretches across one-third of the Earth’s surface, covering an area of over 60 million square miles.

Hawaii is an Archipelago in the Central Pacific

The Hawaiian Islands form an archipelago of 8 major islands and numerous smaller islets, shoals, and seamounts spanning over 1,500 miles. The islands are the peaks of huge volcanoes formed by eruptions of fluid lava over hot spots deep beneath the Pacific Ocean floor.

As the Pacific tectonic plate slowly drifted northwestward over millions of years, each volcano piled lava up through the ocean to create new islands in succession. This ongoing process led to the Hawaiian archipelago drifting away from other island groups in the South Pacific.

The state of Hawaii now occupies the southeastern islands in this long chain, including Hawaiʻi (also known as the Big Island), Maui, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and 5 smaller islands. With no land masses obstructing Pacific swells, colossal ocean waves constantly surround Hawaii’s 332 islands and reefs.

The Pacific hosts an array of marine ecosystems brimming with diverse species of fish, coral, whales, sea turtles and other ocean life. Tourism is a top industry due to the islands’ scenic beaches, surfing, snorkeling, breathtaking landscapes, and rich Hawaiian culture.

The Islands Formed from Undersea Volcanoes

The Hawaiian islands originated from shifting lava eruptions across the ocean floor. Located over a fixed hotspot deep underground, magma continuously seeps upward and erupts through vents onto the seafloor.

As fiery lava met cool ocean water, it piled up and hardened into landmass foundations for islands.

Hawaiian Island Height of Volcano Age Range
Island of Hawaiʻi 13,796 ft (Mauna Kea volcano) 0 – 0.7 million years old
Maui 10,023 ft (Haleakala volcano) 1.3 million years old
Oʻahu 4,003 ft (Waiʻanae volcano) 3.4 – 2.2 million years old
Kauaʻi 5,243 ft (Waialeale volcano) 5.1 – 3.9 million years old

The Pacific plate carrying the Hawaiian chain continues moving northwest at about 32 miles per million years. As each volcanic island moves past the hot spot, lava eruptions stop, and erosion wears the islands down over millions of years.

The oldest main islands have sunk below sea level, leaving their coral reefs and sand deposits behind. Meanwhile, the southeastern end of the chain continues growing with lava flows now building underwater seamounts that may eventually emerge as new islands.

For 70 million years into the future, the deep Pacific Ocean will likely continue to surround new Hawaiian Islands birthed from volcanic eruptions.

To learn more, see the Encyclopædia Britannica and US Geological Survey sites.

The Pacific Ocean’s Influence on Hawaii

Hawaii’s Isolation Led to Unique Ecosystems

Hawaii’s extreme isolation in the vast Pacific Ocean has contributed greatly to the islands’ uniqueness. Located over 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, Hawaii has evolved in isolation for millions of years. This has led to incredibly high rates of endemism – species found nowhere else on Earth.

Over 10,000 species of native plants and animals evolved here over time, with over 90% occurring only in the Hawaiian archipelago according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Hawaii’s reefs possess over 7,000 marine species, with approximately 25% being endemic. This amazing biodiversity stems from the islands’ varied habitats, from tropical rainforests to alpine deserts to coral reefs.

However, many native species are now endangered due to habitat loss and competition/predation from introduced species. Protecting Hawaii’s biodiversity is crucial for preserving these unique species and ecosystems.

Marine Life Abounds in the Surrounding Waters

The Pacific Ocean teems with life along Hawaii’s coasts. Coral reefs harbor thousands of brilliantly-colored fish, sea turtles, eels, and invertebrates. Just offshore, nutrient-rich waters attract large marine mammals like humpback whales, who migrate 3,500 miles from Alaska each winter to breed and birth calves.

Dolphins, monk seals, and green sea turtles are common sights around the islands.

This diversity stems from Hawaii’s location near the transition zone chlorophyll front, where cold, nutrient-rich waters intersect with the warmer waters of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The resulting upwelling fuels blooms of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and baitfish that become food for larger predators.

Protecting Hawaii’s marine ecosystems is vital, as they provide over $800 million annually in economic value from fisheries, tourism, and research.

Key Facts About the Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of the world’s ocean basins. Covering approximately 63 million square miles and containing more than half of the free water on Earth, the Pacific is almost twice as large as the Atlantic Ocean.

Here are some key facts about this vast body of water that surrounds the Hawaiian Islands:

Size and Depth

Spanning over 16,000 miles wide at its widest point, the Pacific stretches across one-third of the Earth’s surface. Reaching depths of up to 36,000 feet in the Mariana Trench, it contains around 25,000 feet deeper depths than the Atlantic on average.

With so much space, you could fit all the continents and still have room left over!


The Pacific is dotted with thousands of islands, from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the southwest. Many of these islands are volcanic in origin, created by eruptions underneath the seafloor over millions of years.

The Ring of Fire – a zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – rims the Pacific Ocean basin.


This vast ocean teems with diverse marine life forms. Fish species number over 20,000, while thousands of species of invertebrates from coral to giant squid inhabit Pacific waters. Marine mammals like whales, dolphins and seals ply its surface waters.

Sadly some species are endangered by overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.

Weather and Climate

The Pacific drives much of Earth’s weather and climate through circulation patterns and temperature variations. Evaporation from its warm tropical areas transports moisture to fuel storm systems. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle causes periodic warming and cooling in the central and eastern Pacific, affecting weather across the Americas, Australia and beyond.

From its life-filled coral reefs to its hidden abysses, the Pacific Ocean is truly an amazing natural wonder. This ocean touches many nations and crosses half our world – reason enough to understand and protect it!


As we have seen, the Hawaiian Islands are entirely surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean. Their formation from undersea volcanoes and isolation in the middle of the ocean led to the development of unique ecosystems and an abundance of marine biodiversity in the surrounding waters.

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of Earth’s surface and has an average depth of 4,280 meters. Its expanse enables it to influence weather and climate across the globe.

So next time you visit beautiful Hawaii and stand on its sandy beaches staring out at the blue horizon, know that it is the mighty Pacific Ocean surrounding you!

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