Research Projects on Midway
The diverse populations of fish and wildlife, coupled with the capability to provide logistical support to investigators, make Midway Atoll an ideal site to conduct long-term scientific research. Data resulting from these projects are critical to the conservation of Midway's natural resources. The Fish and Wildlife Service oversees the research program, working jointly with several cooperating organizations and agencies. Service biologists, with assistance of volunteers, are closely monitoring populations of several seabird species.
Biologists band individual birds to determine survival (adults and young) and reproductive success. The data allows researchers to understand how actions on the refuge, climate change, pollution, and fishing are affecting bird populations. Researchers are also studying monk seal behavior and monitoring survival and reproductive success. Visitors notice that some seals have bleach number marks and flipper tags to allow identification of individual seals from a distance. Other studies are underway to explore the incidence of heavy metals in seabirds, the diversity and abundance of insect populations, migratory shorebirds numbers and to find appropriate habitat management methods. Cooperating researchers are monitoring weather patterns, seismographic events and airborne pollutants.
More detailed descriptions of current research projects are listed below:
Marine Entanglement Debris Cleanup: Discarded fishing nets, ropes, fish traps, and other floating debris entangle and kill marine species. Over 15 years of research on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands has shown increasing trends in accumulation of debris and in the number of seals, turtles, and seabirds found entangled. The marine debris project's main objective is to document the quantity, type, distribution, and annual recruitment rate of entanglement debris on the emergent reef and within the lagoon of Midway Atoll. In 1999, the refuge implemented a pilot project in cooperation with Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, MPC, NMFS, and Oceanic Society using volunteers and interested visitors to recover marine debris from the marine ecosystem. This project is on-going and part of a larger Northwest Hawaiian Islands debris clean-up effort. In 2000, marine debris efforts recovered approximately 27,200 lbs. of marine debris from our lagoon, reefs, and beaches. In 2000, the Refuge was awarded a challenge grant to support our Marine Entanglement Debris Clean-up project from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. A staff member from Midway Atoll was the USFWS representative and participated in the Interagency Marine Debris Recovery Cruise in 2000. The 28-day cruise was very successful with the recovery of 25 tons of net, rope, and line from Kure, Midway, and Pearl and Hermes Atolls. The 2001 marine debris recovery efforts netted 18,795 lbs. of debris. In 2008, the USCG and NOAA assisted Midway staff with the collection and removal; of nearly 20,000 pounds of marine debris from the atoll. Collection of debris continues and current studies are looking at the direct impact nets and other debris have on Midway's coral reefs.
Marine debris poses a threat to the health of thousands of albatross chicks that hatch on Midway every
Atoll wide Laysan and Black-footed Albatross Count: Volunteers paid their way to participate in the yearly Laysan Albatross count and the annual Black-footed Albatross count on Sand, Eastern, and Spit Islands. Volunteers and staff counted over 450,000 nesting pairs of Laysan Albatross and over 25,000 nesting pairs of Black-footed Albatross at Midway Atoll NWR.
Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) Attraction Project: A project to attract visiting Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) to a safe colony site on Eastern Island began in October 2000. The objective of this project is to encourage the establishment of a third breeding colony in the world. Currently the world population, approximately 1200 individuals, breed exclusively at two sites in Japan. Both sites in Japan pose potential threats to the population due to an active volcano. Midway Atoll is visited by a few STAL each year. In 2008, Midway was visited by 4 STAL. The project enables the Refuge to attract those birds and other potential fly-bys to a central location on Eastern Island. The likelihood of different birds seeing each other at a central location on Eastern Island would be higher and they would be safe from aircraft and vehicle traffic that occurs on Sand Island. Decoys of breeding STAL and playbacks of taped recordings of their calls will serve as the attractive stimuli at the project site.
Long-term Seabird Monitoring: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service staff from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and the Portland regional office, along with volunteers, monitor survivorship and annual reproductive success (i.e., hatching, fledging, total reproductive success) and measure temporal and spatial population parameters (i.e., survivorship, nest and pair fidelity, recruitment) for black-footed and Laysan albatross, red-tailed tropicbirds, brown bobbies, and masked boobies.
Tristram's Storm Petrel and Bulwer's Petrel Attraction Projects: Two remote calling stations have been installed (1 on Sand Island, 1 on Eastern Island) in order to reestablish breeding colonies of Tristram's Storm Petrels and Bulwer's Petrels. These two species were extirpated at Midway by rats eating eggs, chicks, and adults. Midway has been free of rats since 1997 and both species have been sighted occasionally at Midway in recent years. By broadcasting the calls that these seabirds make, the refuge hopes to attract birds to areas of suitable habitat to more quickly reestablish their populations.
Laysan Duck Monitoring Project: Laysan Ducks were successfully translocated to Midway in 2004 and 2005. The current population is approximately 300. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborates with the U.S. Geological Survey, Kīlauea Field Station to monitor survivorship, productivity, and abundance of this species.
Coral Reef Monitoring: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the University of California, Santa Cruz to learn about Midway's reefs so future marine restoration projects can be implemented. Key components of the research include: 1) investigating the effect of human introduced iron into the marine system and how it affects coral growth by influencing blooms of cyanobacteria, 2) The impact of sea urchins on coral growth and recruitment, 3) Effects to coral when sea urchins are removed or excluded from small areas, and 4) Environmental contaminants and disease effects on coral.
Bonin Petrel Abundance Project: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is collaborating with a graduate student at St. Mary's University, Novia Scotia, Canada, to determine Bonin Petrel Abundance on the refuge. Bonin Petrels were nearly extinct at Midway due to rat predation. Since rats were removed in 1997, the Bonin population has rebounded dramatically, so it is important to develop new survey methods that will allow the refuge to track the population into the future.
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge welcomes proposals from researchers or investigators interested in conducting scientific research related to this unique ecosystem. For more information on conducting research at the Refuge please contact the refuge biologist.