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Earlier that morning there was a partial eclipse of the moon.
There's something surreal about catching a 2:30am flight to Midway to avoid the nesting birds. For one thing you arrive in darkness but in a few moments with the rising sun the island becomes alive with nature. I was invited by the U.S. Navy, Pacific Fleet to attend the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. I was taken by the contrast of an island that was once a major battle zone and turning point for WWII to what it now is, a National Wildlife Refuge
. I've assembled some of my favorite photos but you can see the entire set here
Midway is now home to some 18 species of birds. There are literally millions of albatrosses distributed somewhat evenly across every square meter of land. You cannot turn around without an albatross standing in your way. As we drove around in our golf carts, our island hosts were careful to go around the birds that claim the road as their nesting area.
During the free time we had on island, I was able to commandeer a bicycle to ride around the entire island. Every where I turned nature dominated, from the terns and tropic birds in the air to the monk seals and turtles on the shore. If you stopped and listened you could not help but hear the cacophony of nature, pulsing with life. I found myself taking deep breaths all the time in order to absorb as much of this feeling as possible. It is hard to put into words.
The life I saw there was abundant but it was not all joyous. With so many chicks, parent albatrosses are challenged to find enough food for their young. As many as 50% of the chicks we saw there won't make it to adulthood. On a hot day in June I saw many chicks that died from dehydration and malnutrition. But that is the reality of nature. Some will make it and many won't. But even in that sad realization I never felt so alive. It's testament to the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the natural habitat of Midway has recovered so nicely and preserved for future generations.
The island personnel seemed genuinely responsible for the natural health of the island but the battle
still rages on to maintain the natural habitat. One major undertaking is the removal of an invasive weed called Verbesina. This weed has taken over large portions of land area threatening bird nesting grounds. The USFWS also has plans to mitigate the non-native plants like iron wood and conduct plantings of native plants. There has already been an eradication of rats.
As night fell we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The albatrosses skimmed over the surface of the ocean looking for their evening meal. No sooner did we arrived, then we had to leave. Again in the darkness of night, waiting for the birds to settle and clear the runway. As tired as I was I felt energized. We arrived back in Honolulu about 1am. I look back at these photos and I feel like it was a dream but it wasn't. I am just glad I got to experience Midway and feel encouraged that the work being done there will protect it for the future.