Conserving the Nature of America
Bulletin
Midway Seabird Protection Project Final Environmental Assessment Available

February 12, 2019

Contact(s):

Megan Nagel, megan_nagel@fws.gov, 808-792-9530



HONOLULU, Hawaii — In 2015, volunteers at Midway Atoll made a gruesome discovery. In the midst of the largest albatross colony in the world, birds were being eaten alive by mice as they sat on their nests. Over the course of a few years, mice attacks have increased from just a few incidents to hundreds of widespread attacks on albatross that result in injury, nest abandonment and death.

 

In order to protect this globally important colony of seabirds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized the Midway Seabird Protection Plan to remove the predatory invasive house mouse from Midway Atoll. The Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact associated with the project are available to the public.

 

As a part of the planning process, the Service consulted with the public, other federal and conservation agencies, and non-governmental and private organizations. All public comments and information received during the public comment period were considered in the development of the environmental assessment. The environmental assessment, associated documents and permits, and project details are available on the Refuge and Memorial’s website.

 

Within Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial supports over three million birds from 30 different species. Nearly 40 percent of all Black-footed albatross and 70 percent of all Laysan albatross in the world rely on the approximately 1500 acres of islands that comprise the remote atoll. Seabirds face a myriad of threats – from fishery interactions and marine debris to invasive species and shrinking habitat. Safe places like Midway Atoll, where seabirds can rest and raise their young, are critical for their ability to survive into the future.

 

Non-native, invasive house mice and black rats became established on Midway Atoll’s Sand Island more than 75 years ago, before it was a refuge and memorial. House mice persisted after black rats were eradicated in 1996 and are now the sole rodent and non-native mammal present in the Monument.

 

The majority of seabird extinctions around the world have been caused by invasive mammals, in particular non-native rodents. For most of the island’s history, there were no rodents on Midway Atoll. Pacific seabirds like the albatross evolved without any fear or defense mechanisms against mammalian predators like mice, rats, cats, dogs, or humans.

 

Biologists do not yet know what triggered the mice to begin preying on the albatross. Mice are omnivores - meaning that they will eat any source of food they can find in their quest to survive – and although they had been present on Midway Atoll for decades, there had never been a documented case of predation on adult albatross by mice before the 2015 hatching season.

 

Part of the danger to the colony is that mice reproduce very quickly compared to albatrosses, which have a very slow reproductive cycle. Albatross pairs only have one egg every one to two years, and both parents invest a lot of energy into hatching and raising that chick. The incredible amount of time and work necessary for albatrosses to survive to adulthood, find a mate, and become a successful parent means that each adult bird is incredibly important to the overall survival of the colony.

 

Their lack of defense mechanisms and complete dedication to their eggs has left albatrosses vulnerable to predation. Their slow reproductive cycle means that losses to the colony from being preyed on by mice will continue to impact the population for decades to come.

 

To date, there have been more than 500 successful projects to remove invasive rodents from islands, and the project on Midway Atoll models similar, successful projects elsewhere. Similar invasive rodent removal campaigns successfully resulted in long-term benefits to native species and outweighed any limited, short-lived negative impacts.

 

The Service has coordinated with the Monument co-managers and worked with Island Conservation, American Bird Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, and other members of the conservation community in the synthesis and development of the science that contributed to the development of Final Environmental Assessment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work with partners and continually evaluate all aspects of the project as it progresses to ensure that the expectations outlined in the project plan are being met.

 

  • For background on this new threat to albatross: https://rebrand.ly/MidwaySeabird
  • For downloadable photos and video, please visit: https://rebrand.ly/MidwayProtectionImages

 

Located on the far northern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and located within the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument. It is one the oldest Atoll formations in the world, it provides nesting habitat for millions of seabirds, and it is a touchstone for one of the most significant naval battles of World War II, and in history, the Battle of Midway. To learn more about the Midway Atoll: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/midway_Atoll/

 

Papah?naumoku?kea is cooperatively managed to ensure ecological integrity and achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of Northwestern Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations.  Four co-trustees - the Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior, State of Hawai‘i and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs - protect this special place. Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument was inscribed as the first mixed (natural and cultural) UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States in July 2010.  For more information, please visit www.papahanaumokuakea.gov.

 

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/pacificislands, or connect with us through any of these social media channels at www.facebook.com/PacificIslandsFWS, www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/, www.tumblr.com/blog/usfwspacific or www.twitter.com/USFWSPacific.


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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