Midway Atoll today is a wildlife wonderland where one comes literally face to face with the abundant and various species of pelagic birds and marine life. It is home to the world’s largest colonies of Laysan
and black-footed albatross. In
fact, the seasons on Midway are
determined by the annual arrival of the
albatross in November and their
courting, mating, nesting and fledging
activities until their departure in
July. During their 9 month
residence on Midway, they seem to occupy
just about every square inch of the 3
islands of the atoll! During their
three month absence from August to
October, it is maintenance and yard work
The census of active albatross nests
completed in January 2006 (hatch year (HY)
2006) reported the highest numbers of
active albatross nests since the count
began in 1991: 487,527 Laysan albatross
nests and 24,085 Black-footed albatross
nests. In hatch year (HY) 2008, there
were 452,609 Laysan albatross nests and
25,320 Black-footed albatross nests. The
active albatross nest census completed
in January 2009 reported 396,963 Laysan
albatross nests and 23,936 Black-footed
At least 17 other species of seabirds use Midway for resting and nesting including Bonin petrel, wedge-tailed shearwater, Christmas shearwater, red-tailed and white-tailed tropic bird, red-footed booby, masked booby, great frigatebird, sooty tern, gray-backed tern, white tern, brown noddy, black noddy, bristle-thighed curlew, Pacific golden plover and ruddy turnstone.
Midway is not just for the birds though: it is also home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). Currently Midway has a population of about 65 monk seals. In 2004, a record number of monk seal pups were born on Midway – 17. In 2005, 10 pups were born and in 2006, a monk seal on Spit Island gave birth to twins—a very rare event! On Midway, one can also regularly observe green sea turtles swimming and basking on Midway’s beaches as well as spinner dolphins leaping and spinning in the lagoon.
A more recent addition to the wildlife scene at Midway is the Laysan duck. The translocation project was undertaken to expand its habitat beyond Laysan Island. In October 2004, 20 Laysan ducks were transported from Laysan Island to Midway and subsequently released on Sand Island. A year later, another 22 Laysan ducks were ferried to Midway—some of these were released on Eastern Island.
In the early days, the ducks sported
radio transmitters (funded by FOMA),
thereby enabling the biologists to
closely monitor their activities.
There is also human life at Midway! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presently has a staff of four while the U.S. Geological Survey has two staff members on Midway. In addition, a contractor, Chugach McKinley, Inc., provides a support staff of about 35. Chugach oversees operations at the airport, power, water and sanitary plants. In addition, they provide medical and food services and perform general maintenance.
The population also includes a few volunteers who spend several months at a time assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff. The volunteers are most often involved in habitat restoration and the eradication of invasive species. To prepare for the arrival of the Laysan ducks, intensive habitation restoration was undertaken. Many, many volunteer hours were spent cloning bunch grass (Eragrostis) and out-planting it and other native species to areas surrounding newly dug duck seeps. Volunteers also helped to transfer truckloads of native sedge to the duck seep areas.
There are more than 200 non-native plant species on Midway. Of primary concern are the vast fields of extremely invasive golden crown-beard (Verbesina encelioides) which in 2001, was found on 80% of Sand Island’s 1200 acres. Midway residents and volunteers regularly schedule one work day each week to pull this aggressive plant. The removal of some ironwood trees is also an ongoing project.
On June 15, 2006, President Bush signed
a proclamation establishing the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine
National Monument. In a ceremony in
Honolulu in March 2007, First Lady Laura
Bush announced the Hawaiian name of the
newly established Marine National
Monument: Papahanaumokuakea. As of
Spring 2008, with the start up of the visitors
program at Midway, Midway Atoll NWR provides a "window" to Papahanaumokuakea
Marine National Monument.
Midway looks and feels like a preserved 1950’s community. The small population gets around on bikes and electric golf carts and most everyone gathers for meals at the Clipper House—the dining facility on North Beach with its fabulous views of the aquamarine lagoon. On Sunday evening, the regulars turn out for a night of bowling at Midway Bowl. Friday afternoons after work, many get together for a game of basketball and beach volleyball is also popular. In the Midway Mall, there is a small store where one can buy sundries and snacks, a small library (open 24/7), “Station Theatre” (which features the latest movies on DVD), a barbershop and a weight room. Special occasions and holidays are also celebrated. On Memorial Day, military veterans conduct a ceremony to honor those who have died during war. And because many of the support staff are from Thailand, the Thai king’s birthday is celebrated with a special Thai meal and Thai dancing.
Midway today is truly a unique and magical place which offers stunning natural beauty, abundant wildlife and a definite sense of history—a place to be treasured and forever preserved.