President Obama has been getting media coverage of late not just for recent conservation actions, but also for his dedication to golf. We previously posted that he will miss seeing Midway’s iconic albatrosses, but should still find plenty to see and do during his visit to the atoll. He is, however, a few decades late to hit the links.
The last time golf on this remote atoll had much action was the 1990s, but even then, golf and gooneys weren’t really compatible. In a Chicago Tribune article, Navy Lieutenant Dan Messing pointed out some of the unique hazards of the island’s nine-hole course: “It drives you crazy sometimes when you hit a shot, because [the albatrosses] go sit on the ball. They seem to think it’s their egg.”
The gooneys likely endured the greater hazards. Mowing was common to keep the greens open and as a mildly effective method of invasive weed control.
Former Refuge Manager and current Friends of Midway Atoll Board member Rob Shallenberger recalls, “Golf was stopped because of the hazard to wildlife, both due to collision with golf balls and the inadvertent destruction of petrel nest burrows. The initial phase-down involved making golf a seasonal activity, permissible only when there were no albatrosses nesting. Total closure came shortly after jurisdiction shifted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Mowing was eventually phased out over much of Sand Island to minimize disturbance to birds and encourage recovery of habitat.”
Midway isn’t the only course where golfers have allowed gooneys to play through. Albatross pairs have taken up residence at the Makai Golf Course at Princeville on the north shore of Kauaʻi. The new neighbors are endearing to some residents and a nuisance to others. But they also represent hope. Climate change and the associated rise in sea level are projected to cause a devastating loss of habitat for albatrosses (and other wildlife) across the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These magnificent birds will need more predator-free high-island nesting spots, like the one being created at Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
President Obama’s decision to expand protection for marine resources, his visit to Midway, and the convening of the World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Honolulu offer reasons for hope. The WCC theme, “Planet at the Crossroads,” could not be more apt for a place like Midway Atoll. Global commitments and focused action are needed to preserve and protect these special places – while we still have time.
In the meantime, if the President feels the need for a little competitive relaxation while on Midway, he can always go bowling.
To learn more about albatrosses on Kauaʻi, check out the Kauaʻi Albatross Network: http://www.albatrosskauai.org