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Orthographic projection centered over Midway.

Midway Atoll (or Midway Island or Midway Islands, pronounced /ˈmɪdweɪ/; Hawaiian: Pihemanu Kauihelani [1]) is a 2.4 mi² (6.2 km²) atoll located in the North Pacific Ocean (near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago), about one-third of the way between Honolulu and Tokyo. Midway Atoll is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. It is less than 140 nmi (259 km; 161 mi) east of the International Date Line, about 2,800 nmi (5,200 km; 3,200 mi) west of San Francisco, and 2,200 nmi (4,100 km; 2,500 mi) east of Tokyo. It consists of a ring-shaped barrier reef and several sand islets. The two significant pieces of land, Sand Island and Eastern Island, provide habitat for millions of seabirds. The island sizes are shown here:

Island acres hectares
Sand Island 1,200 486
Eastern Island 334 135
Spit Island 15 6
Midway Atoll 1,540 623
Lagoon 14,800 6,000

According to other sources, Sand Island measures 1,250 acres (5.1 km2) in area and the lagoon within the fringing rim of coral reef 9,900 acres (40 km2). The atoll, which has a small population (approximately 60 in 2009, but no indigenous inhabitants), is designated an insular area under the authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing 590,991.50 acres (2,351.19 km)[2] of land and water (mostly water) in the surrounding area, is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The visitor program reopened in January 2008 and there are facilities at the present time for receiving visitors. Currently the best way to travel to the Atoll is through organized tour companies. They offer week long naturalist led tours focused on the ecology of Midway and the military history. The economy is derived solely from governmental sources and tourist fees. All food and manufactured goods must be imported. The refuge and most of its surrounding area is part of the larger Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Midway, as its name suggests, lies nearly halfway between North America and Asia, and halfway around the world from Greenwich, England. For statistical purposes, Midway is grouped as one of the United States Minor Outlying Islands.

Midway is best known as the location of the Battle of Midway, fought in World War II on June 4-6, 1942. Nearby, the United States Navy defeated a Japanese attack against the Midway Islands, marking a turning point in the war in the Pacific Theater.


Geography and geology

Midway Atoll is part of a chain of volcanic islands, atolls, and seamounts extending from Hawai'i up to the tip of the Aleutian Islands and known as the Hawaii-Emperor chain. Midway was formed roughly 28 million years ago when the seabed underneath it was over the same hotspot from which the Island of Hawai'i is now being formed. In fact, Midway was once a shield volcano perhaps as large as the island of Lana'i. As the volcano piled up lava flows building the island, its weight depressed the crust and the island slowly subsided over a period of millions of years, a process known as isostatic adjustment. As the island subsided, a coral reef around the former volcanic island was able to maintain itself near sea level by growing upwards. That reef is now over 516 ft (160 m) thick (Ladd, Tracey, & Gross, 1967; in the lagoon, 1,261 ft (384 m), comprised mostly post-Miocene limestones with a layer of upper Miocene (Tertiary g) sediments and lower Miocene (Tertiary e) limestones at the bottom overlying the basalts. What remains today is a shallow water atoll about 6 mi (10 km) across.

The atoll has some 20 mi (32 km) of roads, 4.8 mi (7.8 km) of pipelines, one port on Sand Island (World Port Index Nr. 56328, MIDWAY ISLAND), and one active runway (rwy 06/24, around 8,000 ft (2,400 m) long). As of 2004, Henderson Field airfield at Midway Atoll has been designated as an emergency diversion airport for aircraft flying under ETOPS rules. Although, the FWS closed all airport operations on November 22, 2004, public access to the island was restored beginning March 2008.[3]

Eastern Island Airstrip is a disused airfield in use by US forces during the Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942.

Uniquely among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11, eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time.



Nineteenth century

The atoll was sighted on July 5, 1859 by Captain N.C. Middlebrooks, though he was most commonly known as Captain Brooks, of the sealing ship Gambia. The islands were named the "Middlebrook Islands" or the "Brook Islands". Brooks claimed Midway for the United States under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which authorized Americans to occupy uninhabited islands temporarily to obtain guano. On 28 August 1867, Captain William Reynolds of the USS Lackawanna formally took possession of the atoll for the United States; the name changed to "Midway" some time after this. The atoll became the first offshore islands annexed by the U.S. government, as the Unincorporated Territory of Midway Island, and administered by the United States Navy. Midway and Kure are the only islands in the entire Hawaiian archipelago that were not later part of the State of Hawaii.

The buildings of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company date back to 1903 (2008)

The first attempt at "settlement" was in 1871, when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company started a project of blasting and dredging a ship channel through the reef to the lagoon using money put up by the United States Congress. The purpose was to establish a mid-ocean coaling station avoiding the high taxes imposed at ports controlled by the Hawaiians. The project was shortly a complete failure, and the USS Saginaw evacuated the last of the channel project's work force in October 1871. It then ran aground at Kure Atoll, stranding everyone on the ship. (All aboard were rescued with the exception of four who drowned in an attempt by five crewmembers to sail to Hawaii in an open boat to seek help. The party reached Kauai, but the boat was overturned just offshore and only William Halford survived and was able to bring help to the stranded).

Early twentieth century

Midway Atoll in November 1941.

In 1903, workers for the Commercial Pacific Cable Company took up residence on the island as part of the effort to lay a trans-Pacific telegraph cable. These workers introduced many non-native species to the island, including the canary, cycad, Norfolk Island pine, she-oak, coconut, and various deciduous trees, along with ants, cockroaches, termites, centipedes, and countless others.

Later that year, President Theodore Roosevelt placed the atoll under the control of the United States Navy, which on 20 January 1903 opened a radio station in response to complaints from cable company workers about Japanese squatters and poachers. Between 1904 to 1908 Roosevelt stationed 21 Marines on the island to end wanton destruction of bird life and keep Midway safe as a U.S. possession, protecting the cable station.

In 1935, operations began for the China Clippers, flying boats operated by Pan American Airlines. The Clippers island-hopped from San Francisco to China, providing the fastest and most luxurious route to the Orient and bringing tourists to Midway until 1941. Only the extremely wealthy could afford a Clipper trip, which in the 1930s cost more than three times the annual salary of an average American. With Midway on the route between Honolulu and Wake Island, the seaplanes landed in the atoll and pulled up to a float offshore in the lagoon. Tourists transferred to a small powerboat that ferried them to a pier, then rode in "woody" wagons to the Pan Am Hotel or the "Gooneyville Lodge", named after the ubiquitous "Gooney birds" (albatrosses).

World War II

Burning oil tanks on Sand Island during the Battle of Midway.

The location of Midway in the Pacific became important to the military. Midway was a convenient refueling stop on transpacific flights, and was also an important stop for Navy ships. Beginning in 1940, as tensions with the Japanese were rising, Midway was deemed second only to Pearl Harbor in importance to protecting the U.S. west coast. Airstrips, gun emplacements and a seaplane base quickly materialized on the tiny atoll. The channel was widened, and Naval Air Station Midway was completed. Architect Albert Kahn designed the Officer's quarters, the mall and several other hangars and buildings. Midway was also an important submarine base. Midway's importance to the U.S. was brought into focus on December 7, 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Midway was also attacked for the first time on December 7, 1941). A Japanese submarine bombarded Midway on February 10,1942.[4] Four months later, on June 4, 1942, a naval battle near Midway resulted in the U.S. Navy exacting a devastating defeat of the Japanese Navy. This Battle of Midway was, by most accounts, the beginning of the end of the Japanese Navy's control of the Pacific Ocean.

Korean and Vietnam Wars

Historical populations
Year Pop.  %±
1970 2,220
1980 453 −79.6%
1990 13 −97.1%

From August 1, 1941 to 1945, it was occupied by U.S. military forces. In 1950, the Navy decommissioned Naval Air Station Midway, only to re-commission it again to support the Korean War. Thousands of troops on ships and planes stopped at Midway for refueling and emergency repairs. From 1968 to September 10, 1993, Midway Island was a Navy Air Facility. During the Cold War, the U.S. established an underwater listening post at Midway to track Soviet submarines. The facility remained secret until its demolition at the end of the Cold War. US Navy WV-2 (EC-121K) "Willy Victor" radar planes flew night and day as an extension of the DEW Line (Distant Early Warning Line), and antenna fields covered the islands.

With about 3,500 people living on Sand Island, Midway also supported the U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. In June 1969, President Richard Nixon held a secret meeting with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu at the Officer-in-Charge house or "Midway House".

Civilian rule

Unofficial flag.
Spinner dolphins video.wmv.OGG
Video of Spinner Dolphins taken at Midway Atoll
Albatross birds at Midway Atoll.
White (or Fairy) Tern.

In 1978, the Navy downgraded Midway from a Naval Air Station to a Naval Air Facility and large numbers of personnel and dependents began leaving the island. With the conflict in Vietnam over, and with the introduction of reconnaissance satellites and nuclear submarines, Midway's significance to US-national security was diminished. The World War II facilities at Sand and Eastern Islands were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 28, 1987.

Midway was designated an overlay National Wildlife Refuge on April 22, 1988 while still under the primary jurisdiction of the Navy. As part of the Base Realignment and Closure process, the Navy facility on Midway has been operationally closed since September 10, 1993, although the Navy assumed responsibility for cleaning up environmental contamination at Naval Air Facility Midway Island.

Beginning August 7, 1996, the general public could visit the atoll through study ecotours.[5] This program ended in 2002,[6] but another visitor program was approved and began operating in March 2008.[3][7]

On October 31, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13022, which transferred the jurisdiction and control of the atoll to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Fish and Wildlife Service assumed management of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The last contingent of Navy personnel left Midway on June 30, 1997 after an ambitious environmental cleanup program was completed.

On June 15, 2006, President George W. Bush designated the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument encompasses 105,564 nmi² (137,797 sq mi/356,893 km2), and includes 3,910 nmi² (5,178 sq mi/13,411 km2) of coral reef habitat.[8] The Monument also includes the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2007, the Monument's name was changed to Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced PA-pa-ha-NOW-mo-KOO-ah-KAY-uh) Marine National Monument.[9] The National Monument is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the State of Hawaii.


Red-Tailed Tropic bird.

Midway Atoll is now home to 67-70% of the world's Laysan Albatross population, and 34-39% of the global black-footed albatross.[10]

While Midway supports nearly three million birds, each seabird species has carved out a specific site on the atoll in which to nest. Seventeen different species of seabirds can be found, the rarest of which is the short-tailed albatross, otherwise known as the “Golden Gooney.” Fewer than 2,200 are believed to exist due to excessive feather hunting in the late nineteenth century.[11]

Over 250 different species of marine life are found in the 300,000 acres of lagoon and surrounding waters. The critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals raise their pups on the beaches. Monk seals are benthic foragers and rely on the Midway Atoll’s reef fish, squid, octopus and crustaceans. Green sea turtles, another threatened species, occasionally nest on the island. The first was found in 2006 on Spit Island and another in 2007 on Sand Island. A resident pod of 300 spinner dolphins live in the lagoons and nearshore waters.[12]

Frigate birds.

Ironwood trees from Australia were planted to act as windbreaks. Seventy-five percent of the 200 species of plants on Midway were introduced. The FWS has recently re-introduced the endangered Laysan duck (Midway is part of its assumed pre-historic range) to the Atoll, while at the same time extending efforts to exterminate invasive plant species.

Environmental issues

Classic Gooney Bird pose.

The islands of Midway Atoll have been extensively altered as a result of human habitation. Starting in 1869 with a project to blast the reefs and create a port on Sand Island, the ecology of Midway has been changing.

Marine debris

Midway Atoll, in common with all the Hawaiian Islands, receives substantial amounts of debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Consisting of ninety percent plastic, this debris accumulates on the beaches of Midway. This garbage represents a hazard to the bird population of the island.

Of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses which inhabit Midway, nearly all[citation needed] are found to have plastic in their digestive system[13] . Approximately one-third of the chicks die.[14]

Lead poisoning

Lead paint on the buildings still poses an environmental hazard to the albatross population of the island. The cost of stripping the paint is estimated to be $5 million.[15]


The usual method of reaching Sand Island, Midway Atoll's only populated island, is via Henderson Field Airport.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ USFWS Lands Report, 30 September 2007
  3. ^ a b "Midway Atoll Program to Reopen in March" (PDF). United States Fish and Wildlife Service. January 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Study Tours of Midway Island". New York Times. July 7, 1996. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  6. ^ Pandion Systems, Inc. (April 12, 2005). "Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge: Visitor program market analysis and feasibility study" (PDF). United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2007-09-16.  (Page 1).
  7. ^ "Interim Visitor Services Plan Approved". United States Fish and Wildlife Service. December 8, 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  8. ^ Questions and Answers About the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument
  9. ^ "Papahānaumokuākea: A Sacred Name, A Sacred Place". Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Birds of Midway Atoll". Retrieved August 19, 2009. 
  12. ^ "U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Marine Life of Midway Atoll". Retrieved August 19, 2009. 
  13. ^ Chris Jordan (November 11, 2009). "Midway: Message from the Gyre". Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Elizabeth Shogren (December 29, 2006). "Midway, a Protected Area, Is Also Underfunded". Retrieved 2007-09-16. 


  • Ladd, H.S., J.I. Tracey Jr., and M.G. Gross. 1967. Drilling at Midway Atoll. Science, 156(3778): 1088–1095 (May 26, 1967).

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Oceania : Midway Islands
Quick Facts
Area 6.2 sq km
Population approximately 40 US Fish and Wildlife staff (April 2002 est.)
Language English
Internet TLD .um (part of U.S. Minor Outlying Islands)
Time Zone UTC -11
Satellite view of Midway Islands
Satellite view of Midway Islands

The Midway Islands or Midway Atoll [1] is a wildlife refuge in the north Pacific Ocean, roughly "midway" between California and East Asia, just east of the International Date Line. It was made famous by an Oscar-winning color documentary in 1942, and a 1976 feature film, both about the battle which marked a turning point in World War II.



Midway is part of the extended series of Pacific islands which include Hawaii. It is an atoll of several low, sandy islands. The two largest are Sand Island (the most developed) and Eastern Island (not to be confused with Easter Island), with the smaller Spit Island between them. A coral reef which nearly encircles them (one of the most northerly coral formations of this kind). The three largest islands total 6.2 sq km in area; their collective coastline is 15km. The highest point is 13m above sea level. The climate is subtropical, but moderated by prevailing easterly winds.


The U.S. took formal possession of the islands in 1867. In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt declared the islands a seabird conservation area. Later in 1903 the laying of a trans-Pacific telegraph cable, which passed through the islands, brought the first residents. Between 1935 and 1947, Midway was used as a refueling stop for trans-Pacific flights, and a hotel was built to house passengers. A naval base was constructed shortly before the U.S. entered World War II, and the victory over a Japanese fleet off Midway in 1942 was one of the war's turning points. Although the islands and surrounding waters were designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1988, they continued to serve as a naval facility until 1993. The atoll was transferred to civilian control in 1996 following an environmental restoration effort.

Get in

A private air charter company based in Honolulu provides air service to the Midway Islands on their 19-seat Gulfstream with a capacity of 3200-lbs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the atoll, currently has a newly established visitor program in place to accommodate small groups of interested visitors. Organizations or individuals wishing to visit Midway Atoll must apply for a permit from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument months in advance of their intended visit. Currently a marine conservation non-profit called Oceanic Society is offering naturalist led ecotours consisting of groups limited to 16 participants. The tours are natural history focused, and offer one excursion to Eastern Island, and at least one snorkeling trip to the emergent reef. In addition to the Oceanic Society tours, Military Historical Tours ( offers once-yearly day trips to the island on June 3rd. Participants arrive around noon on a chartered Continental Micronesia 737-800 from Honolulu and leave around 8 that evening. These tours include official ceremonies commemorating The Battle of Midway and also offer some time to explore the island. There is a harbor on Sand Island, and Henderson Field Airport on Sand Island is fully FAA certified and kept operational around the clock as an emergency landing strip for many trans-Pacific flights. Without this runway being maintained many twin engine jets would have to choose alternate routes that would use much more fuel. Travelers with their own means of transportation can inquire with the FWS about visiting. However sailors must still apply for the above permits months in advance of visiting and the Monument has very strict guidelines that must be followed in order to transit through these protected waters. A few examples are that vessels must have their hull cleaned prior to entrance and owners must pay $1500 for the required monitoring devices that track vessel movements while in monument waters. These requirements are in place to try to inhibit the introduction of invasive species and make sure that the fragile coral reefs are not jeopardized by errant sailors. Cruise ships crossing the Pacific sometimes stop outside of the atoll, using tenders to deliver passengers to Sand Island for day visits ashore however even these cruise ships must adhere to the strict permiting guidelines in order to pass through and visit the protected Monuments waters. Day visitors from cruise ships are guided by US Fish and Wildelife staff on excursions to see historic memorials to the battle of Midway, the nesting areas of over 2 million albatross, as well as many other seabirds. Midway is also home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and Laysan teal as well as over 200 spinner dolphins and many green sea turtles.

For more information about group tours visiting Midway in 2008 and 2009 see Oceanic Society's website at

Get around

Bikes and golf carts are available for rent. Bikes $5/day, Golf carts $25/day

cannon and albatrosses
cannon and albatrosses

Nearly 5 million members of 17 species of seabirds nest on the islands, including 2 million albatross both Laysan and Black-footed. 80% of the world's population of Laysan albatrosses are found at Midway, more affectionately known as the "gooney bird" for their awkward landings and especially for their entertaining mating rituals. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals (7-8 feet, up to 500 lbs) haul themselves onto land to rest and to give birth and raise their young, giant green sea turtles (up to 400 lbs) are frequent visitors and have recently been documented nesting on Midways beaches, and a pod of 250-300 spinner dolphins lives – and often performs acrobatics – in and around the atoll's shallow lagoon.

The islands also contain memorials and artifacts of the 1942 Battle of Midway. As well as the original Cable buildings erected in 1903.


The primary activities on Midway Atoll are nature viewing, wildlife photography, snorkeling, limited scuba diving, and kayaking. Fishing is prohibited because previous "catch and release" practices on the shore reduced the number of Ulua at Midway. Midway Bowl is open Sunday from 7 to 9 PM. A miniature golf course on Sand Island is being restored.


US Fish & Wildlife employs about 6 staff personnel and has about 10 to 12 volunteers stay for 3 to 4 month stints throughout the year. Also USFWS has brought out a contractor to operate the facilities at Midway. This company is called Chugach and is a native american corporation based out of Anchorage, Alaska. Currently employing about 55 persons. Most are foreign workers from Thailand, but some are US citizens hired for a variety of needs. Additionally there are 4 airport/fireman contract workers, and one PA, these positions all periodically are advertised as open on various websites.


Sand Island has a small "Ship Store" that carries basic items, snack type foods, and alcohol. They also rent DVD's. Nearby a small gift store run by "The Friends of Midway" sells T-shirts, postcards, books, recordings of the bird colonies, and other items.


All meals are served at "The Clipper House" which now serves as Midway's galley to the 60 or so residents, and the visiting tourist groups and researchers.

Stay safe

There is no crime on Midway

Stay healthy

Midway is staffed with a PA and three of the airport workers are EMT trained. Biggest worries are sunburn, dehydration, twisted ankles. However due to its active runway (Sand Island), fishing vessels have staged many medical evacuations of injured personnel from Midway.

  • The Kure Atoll and the Pearl and Hermes Atoll lie 60 miles to the west and 90 miles to the east, respectively. These are uninhabited coral formations. Kure is part of the State of Hawaii and has a seasonal field crew of about 6 persons stationed for 5 months of the year. Pearl & Hermes has a seal research team stationed there for 6 to 8 weeks each summer and is part the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Both Kure and Pearl & Hermes are also under the protection of the 2007-created Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument encompassing the islands to the northwest of Hawaii.
  • The nearest inhabited islands of Hawaii lie about 1200 miles to the ESE.
  • Wake Island, about 1200 miles to the WSW, was the next stop on Pan Am's "China Clipper" service.
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Proper noun

Midway Islands


Midway Islands

  1. a small group of islands in the central Pacific; a US territory


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