Saturday, June 6, 2015

Midway Islands

For reasons too obscure even for this cynic to be able to fathom, Midway Atoll and Midway Islands are geographically a part of the same archipelago, but are not included in the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex made up of Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll. The others are all looked after by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior, but Midway Atoll, which is also a wildlife refuge, is counted alongside the Hawaiian Islands under the auspices of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Probably something do with Hawaii's status as an official state of the USA, while the others count as overseas territories; but it isn't obvious, unless the Yanks are hiding nuclear missiles in the turtle beds or running a tax haven out of the eagle nests. No hint or evidence of either of those however, not even on Wikileaks or al-Jazeera.

That - turtles and eagles - plus dozens of other seabirds and water birds and land birds, as well as insects and vegetation, coral, fish and shellfish, and marine mammals not found anywhere else on the planet, is all there is on Midway. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot the plastic. The Midway Islands also provide a haven for most of the dumped plastic in the world, which floats there on the surf-waves of the Pacific Ocean; about one-third of the offspring of the two million Laysan albatrosses in the world, for whom the Midway Islands are a maternity hospital, die of plastic poisoning every year, because that's what their mothers unknowingly feed them. The BBC has an excellent report on the issue here; the Smithsonian report is here. The photographic evidence is at the top right hand corner of this page.

The US took formal possession of the islands in 1867, and ran the trans-Pacific cable through the islands, bringing its first residents in 1903. Between 1935 and 1947, the islands were used as a refueling stop for trans-Pacific flights, though Amelia Earhart preferred nearby Howland Island, which also provided said service. The US naval victory over a Japanese fleet off Midway in 1942 was one of the turning points of World War II, though clearly not as impactful as dropping an atom bomb on Hiroshima, let alone a hydrogen bomb on Nagasaki. The islands continued to serve as a naval station until they were closed in 1993, which simply adds mystery to the mystery of why the island has not become part of the PRI NWR - perhaps the lazy politicians in DC just don't care enough about this minor issue to sort it out. The CIA is fully aware of the anomaly; though it appears to be oblivious to the plastic. Its site notes that "today the islands are a NWR and are the site of the world's largest Laysan albatross colony"; at current rate of progress (do I really mean progress?) the wording may have to be altered very soon, perhaps to: "the islands provided the last refuge before extinction for the Laysan albatross".

Marks For: 1866 (the last year in which birds, not humans, determined the island's fate)

Marks Against: However many items you can  count in that baby albatross' stomach (see photo, above)

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