Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was first established as an "overlay" refuge in 1988 to protect the area’s significant natural, cultural, and historic resources, 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.
In 2000 Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was designated the Battle of Midway National Memorial, so that the heroic courage and sacrifice of those who fought against overwhelming odds to win an incredible victory will never be forgotten.
Nearly three million birds nest much of each year nest on Midway Atoll including the world's largest population of albatrosses, nunulu (bonin petrels) and endangered koloa pōhaka (Laysan ducks). `Ilio holo I ka uaua (Hawaiian monk seals), Honu (green sea turtles) and nai'a (spinner dolphins) frequent Midway's crystal blue lagoon encircled by coral.
Midway Atoll (Kuaihelani) comprises an elliptical outer reef nearly 5 miles in diameter, and 580,392 acres of submerged reef and ocean and three flat coral islands totaling approximately 1,549 acres. Sand Island (1,117 acres) and Eastern Island (366 acres) are the two most prominent coral islands of the Atoll, while Spit Island is only about 15 acres in size. The atoll, which is 28.7 million years old, is surrounded by more than 88,500 acres (356 square kilometers) of coral reefs. Numerous patch reefs dot the sandy-bottomed lagoon supporting 163 species of reef fishes and 16 species of corals.
Many chants and moʻolelo describe famous mythical floating islands in the sky, including Midway Atoll or Kuaihelani, as an example. These high ranking islands are referenced as a homeland for the gods, deified ancestors, spirits, and the afterlife. Kuaihelani specifically is said to have been located in the northwest direction of the main islands, and appears as part of a cloud bank adjoining earth. Kuaihelani means “the backbone of heaven”. Looking at what we know about the northwest Hawaiian islands, large lagoons such as the one found at Midway Atoll are known to reflect the color of the lagoon in the clouds above, giving the appearance of an island floating in the sky. Another name that was given specifically to Midway Atoll is Pihemanu, meaning “the loud din of birds”, and actively describes what one hears on this atoll.
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.
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
The mission of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument of which Midway Atoll is a part of is to carry out seamless integrated management to ensure ecological integrity and achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of NWHI ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations.
The purpose of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial is to serve as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds, monk seals, sea turtles and other wildlife, while also protecting cultural resources from the Commercial Pacific Cable Company to the historic Battle of Midway. The principal refuge management objective on land is to enhance the quality of habitat for the full diversity of nesting seabird species. This will be accomplished by preventing the reintroduction of rats, by controlling noxious plants and by replanting specific areas with native vegetation.
Midway Atoll (Kuaihelani) was the turning point in World War II. The remote island in the Pacific was first attacked on December 7th, 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Under cover of darkness, the Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio circled around Midway and bombarded the southwest point of Sand Island. The fringing reef is close to Sand Island on this side, and bright moonlight made the power plant and the seaplane hangar easy targets. The thick concrete walls of the power plant provided protection to the second floor radio control room. Here First Lieutenant George Cannon and his team surveyed the Japanese ships and radioed tactical information to the batteries on the beach. The batteries could not see the ships and needed this critical information to fire accurately on the ships and defend the island. With Pearl Harbor in tatters and Midway shelled, the U.S. entered World War II.
By late April of 1942, Navy intelligence was certain that the Japanese were planning a major offensive that summer. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester Nimitz suspected Midway was their target. He knew that if Japan took Midway, they would soon have a stranglehold on the Pacific. Six months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the US Navy lured the Japanese into a aircraft carrier trap 300 miles northeast of Midway Atoll, a place referred to as point luck. The battle raged on from June 4th-7th 1942. The Battle of Midway was a major turning point in World War II. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost two thirds of its aircraft carriers and many of the crews and officers aboard them. Japan remained a threat, but after losing Midway, their strategy turned to defense. The losses at Midway were considerable and the sinking of USS Yorktown was a major blow to the U.S. Navy. The loss spurred U.S. wartime production of new ships, airplanes, and equipment that soon outpaced that of the Japanese.
Other Facilities in this Complex
Located on the far northern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, Midway Atoll is located within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully protected under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (1,508,870 square kilometers) - an area larger than all the country's national parks combined.