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WESTERN PACIFIC
Midway Island

 
 

Surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, the islands of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago have become a peaceful oasis for seabirds, migrating shorebirds, and marine life. Located 1,250 miles west-northwest of Honolulu, Midway Atoll measures approximately five miles in diameter. For centuries, thousands of albatrosses have lived on the desolate islands that comprise the Midway Atoll. The Laysan albatross is a large bird, with a wing span up to 6 feet and typically lives 12-40 years. Beautiful in flight, but ungainly in their movement on land, the albatrosses were called "gooney birds" by the men stationed on the islands during World War II. The birds soiled the runways, clogged the engines of departing aircraft, and were always, always underfoot. Today, the shadows of their huge wings still dapple the glassy sea as they glide towards the islands to nest. They still perch on the airport runways and the old ammunition magazines and gun batteries, but they no longer need to do daily battle with America's armed forces for possession of the islands. Midway Atoll was made a national wildlife refuge in 1988, and in 1993 the Navy closed the Midway Naval Air Facility, effectively changing Midway’s mission, in the words of Navy Secretary John Dalton, “from guns to goonies.” Now Midway is home to 2 million birds and the world’s largest Laysan albatross colony. Midway Island and the surounding waters are also part of the recently designated Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Although Midway Island is a sanctuary to thousands of albatrosses, the Laysan Albatross is an endangered species. Up to 40% of chicks die each year with stomachs full of plastic.

Inhabited by humans for less than a century, Midway dominated world news for a brief time in the early summer of 1942. These tiny islands were the focus of a brutal struggle between the Japanese Imperial Navy and the United States Pacific Fleet. The U.S. victory here ended Japan's seemingly unstoppable advance across the Pacific and began a U.S. offensive that would end three years later at the doorstep of the Home Islands.

 

EXPLORE BY THEME

Cultural Importance
Endangered Species
Potected Areas

 

LEARN MORE

Midway Atoll - Wikipedia
Battle of Midway, 1942
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
Midway Atoll - PBS
NWHI- Midway Atoll

 

VIDEO

The Plastic Diet - The story of the Laysan albatross on Midway Island

 


Arial view of Midway Atoll and flightline. Photo:NPS


Laysan albatross nesting on Midway Atoll. Photo: FWS


Naval planes in the Battle of Midway. Photo: US NAVY