Now that our adventure is over, we can start to reflect on our experiences and thank the people who made this class possible.
Our goal in bringing our Marine Conservation Biology class to Midway Atoll was to encourage the students to think about the concept of marine wilderness and its role in conservation, particularly as it pertains to the new Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. With the exception of Midway, the Monument will be maintained as a marine wilderness, with no public access and only restricted visitation by researchers and managers. As President Bush noted when he created the Monument in 2006 “Our duty is to use the land and seas wisely, or sometimes not use them at all.”
With access limited so strictly, current planning initiatives for the Monument focus on “bringing the place to the people” rather than the people to the place. Midway is the sole exception to this rule. The public will be allowed to visit Midway, although with restrictions on the type of activities that will be permitted here. So, we asked our students to think about the benefits and challenges posed by this approach to marine conservation – how do you convince people to conserve an ecosystem they will never visit?
For Dave and I, Midway has been a place of contrast, hope and inspiration. We were struck by the remarkable abundance of life – more than a million albatross, teeming schools of fish, and healthy coral reefs – interspersed amongst the remains of military bases, battles, and gun batteries. We were both struck by the remarkable conservation successes achieved by our friends from the USFWS Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge – the eradication of rats, introduction of Laysan ducks, and conversion of marine debris into petrel nests – all of which gives us hope not just for Midway and the Monument, but more broadly for marine conservation in general. And we were inspired by our students who in the space of 10 short days became knowledgeable advocates for the conservation of Laysan and black-footed albatross (amongst many other things).
Our class was the first university course to visit the Marine National Monument. Many people helped us to meet the challenges of bringing a class to this remote atoll. First and foremost, we’d like to thank Barry Christenson, Manager of the USFWS Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, whose infectious enthusiasm made even the rainiest and windiest days fun. His staff- John K., John M., Greg and Pete – went out of their way to make us feel welcome and were an inspiration to us. Marc and his volunteers took time from their busy research schedule to teach us about albatross biology. Darlene from Chugach Industries made sure that we were comfortable and well looked after. Thanks to Eugene Linden for his excellent companionship and for teaching us all to be better writers. We’d also like to thank JIMAR-PIFSC for supporting Dave Johnston during the course. And, finally, thanks to Dean Bill Chameides, who saw the potential of this course – Bill, we’ll see you next year on Midway.
If you’d like to learn more about life on Midway, please visit these links. Mahalo and Aloha.