Midway revisited

Midway Island is a tiny dot of land, only 2.4 square miles, thousands of miles from anywhere else. It’s literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about “midway” between Asia and North America.

You know its name because the greatest naval battle of all time was played out there over a couple of days only six months after Pearl Harbor. All four of Japan’s aircraft carriers were sunk in a decisive victory for the U.S. It permanently crippled the Japanese Navy and changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The name might also be familiar as Chicago named it’s downtown airport after this battle.

Today, only about 50 people inhabit the island, all employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   There had been a National Wildlife Refuge there, but no tourists have been there since 2012, as the tourism program was suspended for lack of funding.

You can try virtual visitation if you’re desperate to see it.

Midway has always been home to a large population of birds, including three species of Albatross.


Today, Midway is again on the front lines of battle, and the stakes this time are much more important even than WWII. It’s a battle all of us are certainly losing. Americans, Japanese, and everyone else. All of us.

Every piece of plastic that has ever been created is still in existence. Over five trillion pieces of plastic are already in the ocean, and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there will be more plastic than fish, by weight,  in the ocean by 2050. Some eight million tons of plastic trash leak into the ocean annually, and it’s getting worse every year. Americans are said to use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.

Even though Midway is in the middle of nowhere, and should be a pristine beach free of any human impact (other than that of the ecologists working there), it is a landing place for a lot of the sea-borne debris. It just happens to be in the way.


Weirdly, marine life seems to like eating plastic as much or more than anything else. I guess it’s also possible that the food chain has been so disrupted  by garbage and climate change that they just don’t have the same food available now that they’ve had in the past. In any case, the Albatross population at Midway has been eating a lot of it.

Click on an image to enlarge it

If you stick your hand into the sand at Midway, you can pull up an array of colored particles. Some people call this “new sand” – it’s plastic that has broken down into smaller pieces. The smallest are called nano-plastics and end up in plankton and become part of the food chain.

They’ve tried to stay ahead of the garbage on Midway, cleaning it up and flying it out – but it’s hopeless. Too much new garbage washes ashore every day or is flown in by the birds.  Midway will certainly disappear under the ocean before any of the plastic  decays. For now, they’re shoveling plastic against the tide.

As always, a few dedicated souls are doing what they can to reverse the damage. You can see what the Friends of Midway are up to. But obviously action on a much larger scale is required.

Are you optimistic?


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