Midway (Fri. 1/30/09) – Last Day

Reflections of our trip from Tom McMurray

Don’t go to Midway Atoll…

I have been on the Atoll for 10 days now and I would say to everyone I know – don’t go to Midway Atoll.  It will mess with you head on all your ideas of conservation, the measure of what is enough and what is important to our planet.  It is way too confusing here.

The Atoll is overwhelming in all dimensions.  You can start with the million-plus albatross, the monk seals, the spinner dolphins, Laysan ducks and the green turtles.  But that is just the start.  Once you meet the people then you will know about compassion, caring, doing the right thing, leadership and the most important aspect of conservation- the commitment to making tough decisions and then acting on them.  I have seen it all in the past 10 days.   People like Matt and John from FWS, the incredible people form Chugach, who manage the place, the volunteers who give their time to protect and restore the islands…

And their efforts are not without challenge.  There is the legacy of the Laura Bush and her hubbie who invoked the Antiquities Act to designate the whole Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument.  The challenge of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and the state of Hawaii to manage this place.  The risk that real exploitation is close – cruise ships. The potential to screw this place up is right in front of us.  And this is one place that should stand as the real monument of what people can do to protect and restore an incredible ecosystem.

Short-tailed Albatross
Short-tailed Albatross

The stories of what has been done here, what has been inflicted on the atoll are powerful testaments to our power to destroy nature.  Yes the US Navy defeated the Japanese here in 1942, which was a turning point in the war. They were the brave men who gave great service to the nation.  I applaud them and respect their service to the country and our way of life.

But the real story of Midway Atoll is happening right now.  There are people here who take chances, do things without total understanding of the consequences, but they are doing the right thing.   They have saved endangered species from extinction, they have protected the atoll from the wealth extraction industry that plagues the US.  And they do it with an honest and open approach that if applied to the lower 48 states would redefine conservation in America.

The real awareness in life for me comes from living on the edge, working without a net, without assurances or protection that even if you do make a mistake that life can be bigger and better and richer.  They actually do it on Midway.  And they do it in style.  There are no NGOs here or special interest groups.  They do not lobby on Midway to pass legislation and define what is protected and what is exploited.  They do what is right and just.

Maybe being 2,800 miles from San Francisco is a blessing.  Flying a cargo plane from Honolulu cost $35,000.  A barge cost $500,000.   People here think carefully before they act.  But once they do, they follow through.  The Duke students and professors and I have seen it and done it all this past 10 days.  We have observed albatross, turtles and spinner dolphins. We pulled invasive weeds and planted native plants to combat them. We have learned from the people who have dedicated their lives to be here.  Not for money, not for fame, not for pride.

I really don’t want to leave Midway tonight. I don’t want to land back in SF and go back to my normal life.  I want to live on the edge, protect endangered species from extinction, restore what was broken as a result of a world war, rebuild the ecosystem that was here 100 years ago.   You might ask why?  Why go to all the trouble to do this on such a remote place.   I cannot tell you why.  I am not sure I can communicate what happened here.  But it did happen for me.

I wish there was an easier way for each of us to grow and protect our planet.  If you believe in the conservation cause then you will find your own Midway, jump in, protect it and restore it.  Midway Atoll is a place I will always remember as a critical step in my expanding ideas of conservation.  Being here is a gift. What happens next is a journey to do the right thing for the planet and its inhabitants – people, animals, fish, birds – every living thing has a right to coexist in harmony without the threat of extinction.  There is a right of nature on Midway that the people here see and live.  I can only hope the right of nature spreads quickly to the rest of the planet.

I want to thank Dean Chameides for inviting me on this trip.  And thanks for Andy and Dave for including me in all the activities. Finally I want to thank each of the students on the trip for talking opening about their issues, sharing their passions and believing in themselves and their role on this planet.

Peace to all.

Tom McMurray

2 thoughts on “Midway (Fri. 1/30/09) – Last Day

  1. Thanks for your blog, Tom, and for summing up the trip so perfectly. Thanks also for coming with us on the trip, and for sharing your insights, and your amazing photos. They are beautiful. It was great to experience Midway with you. I totally agree with you- Midway definitely messes with your head. I would love to go back one day, but don’t expect that will happen anytime soon. It was really an incredible trip, and I really appreciate the chance to be able to go and experience such a unique and special place with everyone. Thanks so much to Andy and Dave for making it all happen, and for exposing us to a corner of the world that experiences conservation successes everyday. Midway’s a huge inspiration and gives us hope for how we can help promote conservation worldwide.

    Thanks again, Tom. It was a great trip. Look forward to seeing you in April.

  2. Tom – Thank you for putting so eloquently some of what you are feeling about Midway. It has been apparent to me from even the brief e-mails I have gotten from my daughter that this trip has been a life-changing event. Your writing helped me understand a little more about why.

    We are each so lucky if we get an experience or two like this in our lifetime. The tricky part always is taking it back to our ‘old life’ and integrating the new paradigm into a life that is already underway. You have all written with such awe and respect for the Midway ecosysytem that I have the feeling you and the others will each figure out how to do it. Thank you for your posting.

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