Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Midway Atoll

Photo: kris krüg via flickr

A lot has changed during the last few months. The rights of immigrants, women, and just about every other minority are being questioned. Laws created to protect the environment, education, and health care are being gutted. While long-standing agreements with other countries are being questioned or downright ignored. All of this chaos puts your travel plans in flux. You’re specifically worried about an atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

You don’t have immediate plans to visit Midway Atoll. You couldn’t visit even if you wanted to. Due to earlier budget cuts, visits have been suspended. The future of the three islands—plus the lagoons, the reef, and the water that surrounds them—is in danger, though. Funding for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is sure to be slashed even further at a time when the low-lying islands are at their most vulnerable. Naval Air Station Midway Island could reopen as tension with North Korea continues to mount. Or the volcanic islands could be opened for development, possibly even hotels carrying the president’s name. One way or another, Midway Atoll is bound to drastically change.

Midway Atoll, often called the Midway Islands, is usually just considered a historical footnote. The atoll, halfway between North America and Asia as its name suggests, is part of the extended Hawaiian archipelago. It was uninhabited when the United States claimed it in the mid-19th century. After a settlement failed, it was home to a radio station, a refueling stop for trans-Pacific flights, and, eventually, Naval Air Station. Two American destroyers were attacked here along with Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Six months later, Japan’s control over the Pacific effectively ended with the Battle of Midway. Though the station was occupied through the Korean, Cold, and Vietnam Wars, the atoll’s importance continued to decrease. The wildlife refuge was established in 1988, while the station closed in 1993.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to thousands of albatrosses. Almost 40 percent of the world’s black-footed albatrosses and nearly 70 percent of its Laysan albatrosses live here. Critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals raise their pups on the white-sand beaches. Huge green sea turtles use the same beaches to nest. Plus a pod of 300—yes, 300—spinner dolphins live in the brilliant blue lagoons. Add World War II historic sites, and it’s an amazing place to go sea kayaking, snorkeling, and bike riding. It’s going to take more than hopes and prayers for Midway to remain untouched over the next four years.

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