Nowhere in the National Wildlife Refuge System are the lives of wildlife and human residents so intertwined on a daily basis. It is, in many respects, a little city, with all the structures, utilities, and types of equipment an infrastructure to support a resident human community along with the operation and management of ETOPS certified Henderson Airfield. When Midway was operated as a Naval Air Facility it supported at one time more than 5,000 residents. While the current resident population is approximately 40, much of the original infrastructure still exists. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, volunteer and contractors live on Midway to support the recovery and integrity of wildlife habitat and species while balancing their own human impact on the land and seascape and protecting historical resources.
Nearly three million birds nest much of each year nest on Pihemanu (Hawaiian place name for Midway meaning loud din of birds) including the world's largest population of albatrosses, Bonin petrels and endangered Laysan ducks. Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles and spinner dolphins frequent Midway's crystal blue lagoon encircled by coral.
Midway became an "overlay" refuge in 1988, while still under the primary jurisdiction of the Navy. With the closure of Naval Air Facility Midway Island in 1993, there began a transition in mission from national defense to wildlife conservation. In 1996 full jurisdiction was given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Midway is one of the most remote coral atolls on earth. However, because of the position of its remote location in the Pacific its became a strategic oasis for international communication, travel and defense operations.
- the last link in a global telegraph system, inaugurated by a message from President Teddy Roosevelt on the Fourth of July, 1903
- a landing site for Pan Am Clippers enroute across the Pacific Ocean in the late 1930s
- the headquarters of a 1942 battle that changed the tide of war in the Pacific
- from July 1942 to the end of hostilities, Midway served as a submarine base that aided in bringing the war to a close
- naval air facility that played a pivotal role in support of the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War