Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

Day Thirteen (Jan. 30) – Last Day At Midway
by -- January 30th, 2011

Things never considered before the Midway experience

Biking at night isn’t easy even with hat and bike lights. Big birds in the road (albatross) and overhead (petrels) and my own brand of night blindness make it safer to walk everywhere, no matter how far it is. All street lamps and bright lights are eliminated to protect the birds. (nocturnal  bonin petrels are blinded by bright light).

How long has that big eye tuna sushi been sitting in the belly of a fishing boat before it gets to the dock auction?   17-21 days

And how long is it after that before it is actually served to a customer in a NY restaurant? 4-7 days. Think about it.

How many juvenile striped marlin are taken by the long liners on ONE boat in one trip of about 17-21 days when long lining for tuna? Too many to count accurately, but close to 30 the day we went.

What other kinds of fish get taken in one trip besides tuna? Wahoo, dolphin (mahi mahi), swordfish, marlin, jacks and more.

Can albatross see you on your bike when they are coming in for a landing? Sometimes yes, but they don’t really know how close they come to flying into your face.

What happens to an albatross with a bum leg when it tries to take off to sea? He hops on the bad leg and uses the opposite wing as a crutch to get to the beach.

How long does it take him to get to the runway from its resting place?  About 30 minutes from Clipper House bike stand around the corner to the sand runway in the back.

And how did it manage to get there? Wobbling on one leg using the opposite wing as a crutch, sitting and resting every 4-5 “steps”.

Does he ever take off to sea to fish? Yes! He takes a hopping “run” down the albatross runway, catches  a wind gust and off he goes.

What does one do when you collapse a Bonin petrel burrow onto the bird while getting to the orange tree to pick fresh fruit in the orchard? You dig like crazy even when the bird is pecking your arm and trying to get out of the sand. After you set that one free, you dig like a badger both directions to make sure there are no other birds or a nest buried underneath.

How well does my 20-year-old Patagonia rain jacket work in a torrential downpour on my way to prepare bunch grass for greenhouse propagation and beach cleanup? Pretty darn well; though it just FEELS like I’m getting wet underneath until I take it of and find my shirt totally dry. Every other part of me is drenched.

How does one get good photos of spinner dolphin fins on a rocking boat in the rain? With lots of shots, good positioning, and a whole lot of luck. (Mine were useless!!)

How does one tag a nesting Black-footed albatross? You come up from behind and hope it doesn’t spin on you. When you’re in position, slide your hands under it to tag one leg and then the other while your partner holds the lid of a pickle bucket between your face and the agitated bird’s beak.

Our CEM's leave Midway with exhilaration to go home to tackle the worst and the most environmental issues that they can This 1903 Pacific Cable building and the earth around it epitomizes the necessity for lead paint removal that plagues the island and that was voted by the class as a top priority were they to be managers here.

Our CEM's leave Midway with exhilaration to go home to tackle the worst and the most environmental issues that they can This 1903 Pacific Cable building and the earth around it epitomizes the necessity for lead paint removal that plagues the island and that was voted by the class as a top priority were they to be managers here.

What does lead paint in the soil around an old building do to albatross chicks? They develop a syndrome called drooping wing, waddle around aimlessly unable to hold up their necks until they expire.

What other buildings contain contaminants now? All WWII buildings or before, though many are slowly being “encapsulated”, torn down or mitigated as funds become available.

How much will it cost to clean up the mess left by the earlier managers of Midway? I didn’t catch the total amount, but simply to stabilize, NOT restore one significant WWII structure will cost $20 million (see Isabel’s blog posting)  To mitigate the lead paint and asbestos in the Pacific Cable Company building built in 1903 and remove the soil around it to a 6“depth to leave it safe for habitation by the birds will cost $6 million. Guess which project has priority to the US Congress? Has the money been appropriated? What does the manager do with no money to act on the priorities presented to him by the many oversight groups of the island area? Just one of the many questions the CEM’s will have to wrestle with in their jobs after graduation.

How many inhabitants were there on Midway at its peak usage? 5,000.

How many live here now? 100. (That means many empty buildings and lts of building debris to remove from the island over time—one shipload at a time.

How many albatross eggs were washed off their nests in the recent storm in mid-January on one side of the island? 10,000.

What is the vote from the group as to which should be the priority project and what will the cost be? Verbesina eradication–$6 million.

These are just a very few of the questions and answers that come from a ten day  trip to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and as you can see, this was an enlightening experience though these questions here do not even touch the surface of the concerns and issues addressed in these two weeks.

We all wish that each American could visit this place and be required to volunteer to do the work to assist these tireless and dedicated advocates of the Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and many others who work to protect, preserve and enhance the native ecosystem even after there has been such dramatic historic alteration by human beings.

Goodbye to Charlie (barracks) Hotel, our resident "albies" and Bikes

Goodbye to Charlie (barracks) Hotel, our resident "albies" and Bikes

So long and mahalo to our home on Midway—Charlie Hotel, Darlene, the Chugach staff and especially the band who played for us on an off night to give us a royal send off, Pete Leary, John Klavitter, John Miller, Greg Shubert, and Tracy Wurth—our excellent guides and teachers, and to my bicycle!


  1. Monica Dove
    Jan 31, 2011

    I was moved to tears when I read about all the great work being done, but even more so as to the tremendous amount of work that is left to be done, and at such a staggering cost. I enjoyed Sally’s comments about the time that elapses for fish-to-table sushi. Makes you think a bit, doesn’t it?

  2. Charlotte Clark
    Feb 11, 2011

    I love the format and informative (yet conversational) nature of your post. thanks!

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