My husband and I recently took time of our ever busy schedules to explore Midway Atoll where we had an awesome time. It is one of the places that had been on our travel wish list for a very long time so we opted to travel there when we had saved up enough money. This is one of the best destinations that you can get away and spend your time relaxing and bonding with the various aspects of nature.
One of the things that we learnt when we got there is that Midway Atoll is a 5-mile diameter circular coral atoll that comprises three islands namely the Eastern, Spit and the largest Sand. There is a notable presence of small US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) staff that operate the infrastructure even though we were made to understand that it has a population of 60 people. This is evident in the fact that getting there was not a big deal as there is a functional 8000 feet runway that is FAA certified and well maintained. In fact, it also serves as an emergency runway for the engine trans-Pacific jet flights.
If you are planning to visit Midway Atoll, you will do best to spare between a week and two in order to be able to explore it as well as the surrounding coral reefs and the three small islands satisfactorily. One of the attractions that we loved visiting is the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge that has been running tourism programs for five years now. This is best done in small groups of up to sixteen people, therefore you will need to sign up just as we did. Signing up also ensures that the tour is well planned for by the guides.
It was exciting to learn that Midway Atoll is part of Papahanaukuakea National monument that is also considered the world’s largest marine area that is fully protected. The place has been under protection since 2006 with the main goal being the protection of the coral reef systems as well as other related species that are commonly found on the chain of this island. During the tour we were amazed at the fact that this Atoll as well as the other islands that are part of the Northwest Hawaiian Island have continued to serve as reserves for seabird colonies for quite a while now. Fortunately for us, we were not lucky enough to catch up with any of these bird colonies. This was a crowning moment for both of us because we love watching birds. The presence of the diverse seabirds and marine life have made it to be compared to Galapagos Islands.
Midway Atoll is also known for the role it played in the battle for power within the Pacific during the Second World War. This is because it served as a turning point by shaping history so we made a stop at the Battle of Midway National Memorial. We spent a great deal of time watching Albatross populations that were on the island. Our tout guide was quite knowledgeable about these species where we learnt that there are usually more than 2 million albatross nesting on an area of 1500 acres creating a natural spectacle that is worth watching. We managed to see all the three species of these birds namely short tailed, Laysan and Black footed. Other seabirds that you can see when you visit Midway Atoll include masked, Red-footed, great frigatebird, Christmas Shearwater,wedge-tailed, Bonin petrels as well as the ethereal white tern.
We also had a great time watching Spinner dolphins and the Hawaiian monk seal that are ranked as most endangered marine mammal. This is in addition to the green sea turtles that are a common sighting in Midway Atoll. The guide told us that the first nest had been sighted recently even though we were not able to see them. We could not leave Midway Atoll before exploring the Eastern Island where we spent an entire day. This Island is a critical habitat for the monk seal hence there are strict rules regarding accessibility.
We had hoped to see the Golden Gooney but luck was not on our side so we only managed to see the short tailed Albatross that we had seen earlier. While on Eastern Island we also got an opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views of the Great Frigatebird that we also captured on our camera. We also came across a number of historic markers that are excellent reminders of Midway Atoll’s rich military history that you need to experience when you visit. The waters are clear and we were accorded the opportunity to snorkel so as to have better views of coral reefs that are found here.
This was a worthwhile experience especially considering the fact that the waters were clear allowing you to see unlimited coral species as well as a variety of fish because there is not much fishing pressure here. The USFWS also organize lectures for visitors in a bid to sensitize them on their conservation efforts and also educate them on the ecology and natural history of this ecosystem. While this sounds somewhat serious, it is quite enlightening and it helps you to better appreciate Midway Atoll. In fact, at the end of the lecture I was almost volunteering to assist the USFWS staff with the beach clean ups. Other areas where volunteers are needed include native vegetation propagation and invasive weed eradication. These are long term and mainly target residents of Hawaii Island particularly those that reside close to Midway Atoll.
Another important point to note is that visits to Midway Atoll must be arranged through Oceanic Society’s site that is a San Francisco based non-profit marine conservation organization. This organization is in charge of bringing both volunteers and tourists to Midway Atoll. These trips run between March and June as well as the period between November and the first week of December. The trips are both educational as well as recreational and they are conducted by naturalists who are well knowledgeable about Midway Atoll. The organization takes care of accommodation at the comfortable and modest restored barracks have single as well as queen beds. We actually loved our stay here because we had access to running water, electricity, air conditioning and a private bath. You also do not need to worry about finding a good restaurant because all visitors to Midway Atoll are served with meals buffet style at Clipper house, that overlooks a beautiful white sand beach with coral. The view is priceless. It is during this time that you will also get the opportunity to interact with the residents of Midway Atoll.