Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

Midway (Wed., 1/27/10) – Reflections on the past
by -- January 28th, 2010

Another wonderful day on Midway! Waking up to an overcast sky, we decided to search for spinner dolphins on the North side of the island.

Did you see that? Lindsey and Matt look for spinner dolphins.

Did you see that? Lindsey and Matt look for spinner dolphins.

Taking the Fish and Wildlife Service 25 foot SAFE boat (with Tracy as our outstanding coxswain!), we searched for the dolphins. Conditions were great on the water and provided a smooth ride.  We never did find the elusive cetaceans, but we do our part by picking up some marine debris.  After lunch (chocolate and vanilla swirl softserve-yum!), it was back in the boat for some snorkeling.  The water is a little chilly here so wetsuits were necessary.  The water was crystal clear and there was a wealth of sea life; octopus, parrot fish, Christmas wrasse-absolutely beautiful (and no sharks!).  Along the fringe reef of the atoll, huge ocean waves pounded, but the lagoon was much calmer.   The day was topped off by a basketball game between the Dukies and the Midway residents, and then off to the All-Hands club for some shuffle board and cards with the volunteers. Another wonderful day on Midway.

Hanging out at the All-Hands club

Hanging out at the All-Hands club

I have to admit, I was really nervous about writing this blog, this is actually my very first blog!  I don’t really have any facts or figures to relay about the events of the day and I’m not really sure how to organize my thoughts about what I have experienced so far.  What I really want to tell you about, is how special Midway is to me.  This island represents a wonderful combination of natural and human elements; its the tangible dichotomy of this interaction.  I can’t get over the fact that this tiny island in the middle of the pacific ocean once supported almost 5,000 people and continues to support over a million birds a year!  As you have seen through our photos and other posts, it is beautiful here.  And while I am awestruck by the natural beauty of this place, it is the human impact that fascinates me the most.  Some may call it an obsession, but I am drawn to the human history of this island.  The buildings and infrastructure that remain serve as a reminder of this history.  Midway provided the backdrop to a significant, but often overlooked battle in WWII, the turning point to the war in the Pacific.

Personnel stationed at Midway during WWII (photo from the National Archives)

Personnel stationed at Midway during WWII (photo from the National Archives)

It was a Naval Air Station that thousands of military personnel called home, and the buildings that remain here serve as a memorial to these events and the people involved in them.  There are homes and recreational buildings like the Midway Theater and bowling alley.  The old Navy dining facility still has dishes, pots, and silverware in it; the machinist shop still contains drill bits, tools and equipment once used by personnel stationed here so many years ago.  It is as if time stopped here and the people disappeared, yet everything else remained.  It is spooky at times, even during the day riding along on your bike, you can feel their presence.  We have mentioned the “power of place” before and I really want to reiterate it here.  I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that we have been removed from our normal, day-to-day, modern lives and transported to this place, representative of many different decades in time, but this island holds power.  I’ve never felt anything like it anywhere else.  To walk into that old theater is magical, you can close your eyes and see it filled with people, feel it filled with people.

Inside the old machine shop

Inside the old machine shop

No doubt Midway is a special place, a unique blend of nature and the human element, past and present.  While I am interested in what was here before, it only makes me think about the future.  What will happen to this place?  If Midway is to serve as the window to Papahanaumokuea, how will we preserve both the natural treasures and the historical ones?  There are so many competing demands represented in such a small area, it will be interesting to see how things play out.  While I want this place to return to its natural state, I also very strongly want to preserve the historical aspect of this island as well-but how do you do that when money and resources are limited?  As I look at these historic buildings, it reminds me of how stuck we can get in the past.  We use the past to remember and honor those who came before us, but we often end up living in the past, and this can actually hinder our ability to thrive in the present and create a better a future.  I am so grateful for being able to experience this wonderful place.  It has provided me the opportunity to learn more about so many different things.  I’ve learned about monk seals, albatross and conservation management, but I’ve also learned more about myself and the people around me.  We are all in this together and hopefully we can learn from the past, reflect on the past and honor the past to create a better future for the world we live in.

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