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You are here: /main/research expeditions/ 2005 RAMP/9_27-28_05 Midway

9/27-28/05 - Midway
by David Nichols, State of Hawaii, DLNR, HIHWNMS

REA Divers

Phycology REA diver Cheryl Squair (UH) and coral REA diver Fenny Cox (HIMB) take a break from diving to enjoy North Beach at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jason Kehn.

We arrive at Midway Atoll early in the morning on September 27. Midway Atoll measures 5 miles in diameter and includes three small islands located at the southeastern end of the lagoon totaling 1,535 acres. The protective reef around the lagoon is submerged in some places and four to five feet above sea level in others. Midway's associated reefs measure about 85,929 acres.

During World War II, Midway served as an important naval air station and submarine refit base. The atoll was attacked twice, first on December 7th 1941, and again during the pivotal Battle of Midway, June 4th-6th 1942. In 1996 the once strategic naval base was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be managed as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

Today a fulltime Refuge staff administers a small visitor program, cares for its wildlife, restores native plant life, and protects historic resources. The backside of our visitor map refers to Midway as “an oasis in the north Pacific where wildlife comes first”. Nearly two million birds of 19 species nest on Midway. The atoll has the largest Laysan albatross colony in the world.

The science teams are all launched in small boats to perform their research tasks at the various sites around the atoll. The teams see dolphins, monk seals resting on the protected beaches, and green sea turtles feeding on algae near shore.

The reef at Midway is rich and diverse. The underwater habitats here include spurs, grooves, and sand channels that are home to many species of algae, seagrass meadows, urchins, bi-valve clams, sponges and much more that will keep the teams busy for the next two days.

After finishing with the first day of research at Midway the science teams and crew are treated to a dockside picnic/bar-b-que prepared by the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai chief steward, Allen Gary and second cook Susan Parker. These two do a great job of preparing the daily meals for all on board. The food is always great! I am certain that in spite of the non-stop work being done (by crew as well as the science teams) no one on board will be losing any weight this trip.

Following the picnic and brief orientation by the refuge manager, everyone had a chance to take a quick tour of the island (including the picturesque North Beach), play a little volleyball, Frisbee, or relax at a beachside bon fire courtesy of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The teams were back on the water the next morning to continue their assessment and monitoring activities around the atoll.

After finishing up the day’s activities we depart Midway Atoll and head for the last island in the chain, Kure Atoll. We should arrive early tomorrow morning in time for our 7:30 start.

New species of sea cucumber first found by Bishop Museum’s Scott Godwin in 2000 from Midway Atoll and Pearl and Hermes Reef and has now been seen during this cruise also at Maro Reef and French Frigate Shoals. Photo by Scott Godwin.

We have another nomination for the “unofficial poster critter for the NWHI” – affectionately known onboard as the cookie-dough sea cucumber. Scott Godwin of Bishop Museum first discovered this new species of Holothuria in 2000 from Midway Atoll (and Pearl and Hermes). This new species has now been described from two additional Northwestern Hawaiian Islands locations during this cruise: French Frigate Shoals and Maro Reef. This is an entirely new species of Holothuria that appears to be endemic to Hawaii and presently is being studied by experts on this group of organisms.

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