Midway Atoll, United States

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Midway Atoll, United States

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A spectacular seabird paradise

Midway Atoll consists of three small islands tucked away at the far end of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The wildlife, habitat and marine ecology are striking, but the most remarkable fact is that more than 3 million seabirds breed on the atoll annually! Midway is located within the United States’ largest conservation area: the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. It forms part of an extensive network of more than 560 National Wildlife Refuges across the United States and surrounding waters.

The atoll supports the world’s largest albatross colony, hundreds of thousands of Bonin Petrels, and critically endangered Laysan Ducks. It is home to the world’s oldest known wild bird – the Laysan Albatross named Wisdom. You can find Hawaiian Monk Seals and Green Sea Turtles on the beaches. Surrounding the island is a rich reef filled with over 250 species of fish, 29 species of coral, and many invertebrate species. The atoll is also home to a pod of Spinner Dolphins.

Only a few dozen people live on the atoll – all of them staff or contract workers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is also home to the Battle of Midway National Memorial and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although “Midway” may seem an uninspiring name, this set of islands has Hawaiian place names too, including Pihemanu (“loud din of birds”) and Kuaihelani (“the backbone of heaven,” referring to the turquoise reflection of the atoll’s lagoon in clouds overhead).

Without doubt, the Laysan Albatross is Midway’s most iconic and beloved wildlife species. Unfortunately, these beautiful birds have been directly targeted by invasive, carnivorous mice. Invasive mice attacks on such large seabirds seem surprising and unlikely; however, the evolution of the albatross (and other seabirds) in remote locations without predators has resulted in a lack of anti-predator response. In other words, the albatross simply does not have an evolutionary response to predators and therefore has a diminished reaction to being bitten by mice.

A Voice from the Community

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is famous for its seabirds, but they are being threatened and preyed upon by invasive mice. Our vision is that native seabirds on Midway Atoll are able to safely nest without the threat of invasive species.

— Wes Jolley, Head of Operations U.S., Island Conservation

The Project

The “Midway Seabird Protection Project” aims to restore Midway Atoll so that it may be a place where native species can once again thrive on their island home without the threat of predatory mice. A July 2023 intervention to remove invasive mice was unsuccessful due to a combination of unexpected challenges, despite meticulous planning and flawless execution. You can learn more about this attempt on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website. At this point, the partners are prioritizing the protection of native species, ensuring that efforts remain aligned with sustainable ecological impact and that monitoring, data collection, and science will add to the fields’ learning and adaptive management. The partners remain committed to restoring and enhancing the atoll’s healthy ecosystem functions.  

Project Partners & Funders

Apex Expeditions, Atherton Family Foundation, Bell Laboratories, Inc., Fletcher Bay Foundation, Friends of Midway Atoll, Hawaii Community Foundation, Island Conservation, Kōaniani Fund, Nancy and Richard Mack, Marisla Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pine River Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Moore Family Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other anonymous donors.

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