Midway atoll -- 'not your typical beachside resort'
Navy makes way for gooney birds and monk sealsJuly 24, 1998
Web posted at: 11:47 p.m. EDT (0347 GMT)
From Correspondent Gary Strieker
MIDWAY ATOLL (CNN) -- At one time, there were more than 3,000 people on a U.S. Navy base on Midway, and in 1942 it was the scene of a bitter, three-day battle during which the United States crippled the Japanese fleet.
But the Navy left last year, and the island is now a U.S. wildlife refuge where fewer than 200 residents and a few dozen tourists wander among Laysan albatrosses -- also known as gooney birds -- and endangered monk seals.
"This is not your typical beachside resort," says Rob Shallenberger, the refuge manager. "But it is a wonderful place to experience wildlife and get to know nature."
As in all U.S. wildlife refuges, the emphasis is on wildlife conservation.
"Our primary goal here is to enhance the habitat for wildlife," Shallenberger says.
It is easy to capture albatrosses on Midway, since about 800,000 of them return each year to nest and raise their young. Some of the birds were banded more than 40 years ago.
"We're able to see by banding chicks how long they stay at sea before coming back," says Elizabeth Sandlin, a volunteer.
Trees are death traps
Albatrosses have always frequented Midway, but the arrival of the U.S. Navy meant they had to compete with other species as well. Not only were there men and machines, noise and pollution, but exotic weeds overran nesting areas and tall ironwood trees sprouted up to become potential death traps for unwary seabirds.
Restoring the habitat requires cutting down the trees and planting native plants, and much of that work is carried out by volunteers who pay their own way to Midway.
Researchers, meanwhile, are getting "a lot of new information" about the monk seal, the spinner dolphin and the burrowing petrels, says Suzanne Canja of the Hawaiian Wildlife Fund.
Money has been a problem, however. There was none in the federal budget to pay for maintenance of the refuge, so a private company took over that responsibility in exchange for the tourism franchise.
"We generate the revenue," says Mike Gautreaux of Midway Phoenix Corporation, "and that's what helps to operate this island."
Not yet a success
Such an arrangement between a private company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never been done this way before, and it's not exactly a booming success.
If the refuge is to continue to operate in this fashion, it's going to have to attract more visitors to this spectacular, but very remote part of the Pacific.
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