Why Midway

Midway Atoll is a collection of three small islands in the North Pacific, and one of the most remote places on earth. In many ways, this film could be shot in many places on the planet where we find tragedy and despair, but here- about halfway between the U.S. and Asia- on an island teeming with life and wonder, it is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Midway Atoll is located near the apex of what is being called the Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling soup of millions of tons of plastic pollution. In fact, much of this plastic can not be seen at, but it can’t be avoided as it comes ashore on these pristine beaches and in the stomachs of the birds. The islands are literally covered with plastic garbage, illustrating on several levels the interconnectedness and interdependence of the systems on our finite planet.

The ironies are unmistakable- the first trans-atlantic cable was connected here on Midway; the scars from the Battle of Midway are unmistakable. Yet now, as a protected area, we can’t help but look at the role this island had in the past, and think about where we are today. This place, a historic moment in World War II, stands a turning point that launched America’s economic dominance of the 20th Century. And so it is here, sitting halfway between the consumers of North America and the consumers of Asia, that we get to stop and consider some of the unintentional consequences of growth, and the responsibilities that we have for our planet.

46 thoughts on “Why Midway

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  3. Hi Jay
    This is Jenny and I got your name and info from Andi, my friend at Rooftop School where I teach 5th grade. I used to live on Midway Island when my dad was stationed there in the late 1960’s. My dad was a pilot, and because he loved flying, he was fascinated with birds. I have footage of albatross (we used to call them “goonie birds”) taking off and landing on Midway. In this same video, dad filmed fairy terns, bos’n birds, and frigates. It was all so beautiful then. I have looked at most of your website, and it just breaks my heart to see my former home, where I swam every day, with all this plastic garbage – and the dead albatross – it’s all so sad… Please feel free to contact me if you want. Andi says you might come to Rooftop someday. I’d love to meet you and talk to you about Midway. Jenny

  4. I lived on Midway from 1961-69 in one of cable building. Last time I looked Midway was still in the Pacific ” the ironies are unmistakable-the first trans- atlantic cable was connected here on Midway”

  5. I had the great opportunity to live on Midway from March 1972 to June 1974.
    I was a weather observer in the Navy. I lived in Charlie Barracks and worked
    in the Weather Office(NWSED) which was located on the second floor of the
    hanger. I also got to revisit Midway in April 2000 for a week. It is a shame
    that Midway is no longer open to the public.

  6. You are doing great work, a very important project.
    I was not aware of this, although I have done a deal research on the cable history.
    However, with regard to your website comments on the undersea telegraph cable:
    it is the [trans-] Pacific Ocean cable,not the Atlantic. The company was the Commercial Pacific Cable Company and it was the second, not first, trans-Pacific cable. The All Red Route, owned by a British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand consortium [the Pacific Cable Board] built and complete their trans-Pacific almost two years earlier.

    All the best,

  7. I turned 8years old in oct 1972 while my father was stationd on midway we lived in petty officer housing D- 18 # 6308 accross from the old baseball field. my father is MCB-5 Clarance Albert Levingston JR, and he worked with the security MPs for a short time. I dont know if you new him but my family loved living on Midway. The memories of Midway and the friends we mad will always be rememberd. If anyone remembers my family please contact me ambernbert@yahoo.com, I’d love to here from anyone thanks

  8. Thinking of you all the time. Love the new little hatching Miguel. Can’t wait to hear all about it as soon as you get back. Keep well and safe, love to you and Victoria.
    xxxxooooo Ma.

  9. I am so moved by the plight of the birds on Midway and the absolute horror of plastic garbage accumulating everywhere. Thank you for bringing this to us…beautiful and insightful.

  10. Nous ne savons pas comment vous pouvez supporter cette vision sur le terrain. Ne gardez pas ces images pour vous, elles doivent voyager comme voyagent au grès des courants, tout ces objets qui sèment la mort…

  11. Hi, I was stationed on Midway Island with the US Navy in 1979-80. The birds were phenomenal and they had the same problem then as they do now…plastic garbage, much of it tossed from ships or barges. We also had a tremendous rat problem…they were the size of small cats and were not afraid of people. Midway has some of the most beautiful beaches and interesting wildlife. I remember swimming and finding myself in the company of seals and sharks. It was a an eye-opener on how beautiful yet cruel nature can be…and even more so when you throw in people and their garbage.

  12. I flew from Midway from 1957 to 1959 in the navy WV-2 Super Constellation aircraft as a pilot. We had a good bit of crew rest time which I spent mostly in the water, and watching the birds. The Layson Albatross (Goonie bird) are beautiful birds and very entertaining to watch
    I hope your project comes to a successful conlclusion and that, somehow, mankind can begin to clean up the mess we have made in the pacific.
    Good luck!
    W. Bryant Sewall
    Plano, Texas

  13. Hi, Chris and team
    I was surfing the net looking for some photographies and just got hit accidentally by this project of yours and would like to say that it has changed my day, perhaps my hole point of view. I forwarded it to my husband right away. It’s an amazing work, I work with media as well and I’d like to congratulate you and all the crew who’s been doing so much effort to show this reality to the world. I myself live in a very polluted city (São Paulo, Brazil) and only few times a year can go on vacation to some sunny far away beach and pretend nature there is untouched. But it’s really ver very sad to see that even this remote, distant island, is suffering from our actions. It makes us really understand the complecity of nature, and see that earth is a, a you said yourself, finite plant. It really needs us to take care of it better. Thank you for this amazing work, it was very very inspiring. Camilla

  14. You are fighting a courageous, but seemingly hopeless, battle against some terrible enemies and the mess they left in the Pacific. I have a suggestion: only much money from major countries can clean up this mess. Can you get your message to the U.S. Congress and the legislatures in other major countries? That is the only thing I can think of that can raise sufficient money to accomplish this very important goal.

    You certainly may use my name if you desire. I would be willing to put my name etc on a petition to our Congress members.

  15. I discovered yesterday what is happening on Midway Island and it is terrible! I will share the video with my friends and talk about it with verypne I know. I am portuguese and I will make sure that Portugal know what is happening!

  16. My yoga instructor Tim Hurley forwarded the link to the Midway trailer. While I have no direct connection to Midway, it breaks my heart to know of and see so much suffering. I look forward to learning more about what I can do to make a difference. May my small contribution be joined by many more.

    Vickii Engel Thomas
    The Center for Healing Arts
    Wesminter, Maryland

  17. Hi I was stationed on Midway from about August 1972 to November 1973 and I worked down at the harbor on the tugboats and lived in the barracks there. I use to also stand watch in the watch tower down at the harbor. Does anyone who was there at that time remember early 1973 the the recuse of the two men that a Libarian ship rescued at sea and the one mans wife died about three weeks before they were rescued. The three people left San Pedro California and turned over in a storm and hung on to the side of there sailboat for 76 days before rescue. The two survivors were brought to Midway and we went out on the Tugboat and brought them in to be flowen to Hawaii for treatment. I mentioned because I still have some old short movie clips and have always wanted to find them or there family to give it to them. Anyway I also remember after a storm walking around the island searching for fish balls and of course who could forget the gooney bird.


  18. I lived on Midway in 1964. I was there when President Kennedy was shot – I remember the principal making the announcment and then seeing my teacher, Miss Howerton, coming into our classroom in tears. We were all told to go home – my father was a pilot so he wasn’t there – just my mother in tears.
    While that was a profound moment my overall life on Midway was magical. Loved the swimming and riding bicycles.The swimming was so beautiful in the shallow waters and many of us scuba dived. All of the children were raising Fairy Terns that had fallen out of their nests – we would have to catch their food of choice which was minnows -the trap of choice was a tennis racket covered in small wire:). Of course there was stepping clear of Goonies (when possible)and collecting Boloson bird tail feathers. When we were at the beach and in the water we collected shells and fish balls (Japanese glass balls that were used to hold fishing nets) they were all sorts of sizes in beautiful shades of green and aqua
    It remains one of the most memorable times of my life.


  19. Lived on Midway in 1965 -1966 mostly on Eastern island. When not on watch, spend many hours walking the beach and watching the birds. Yes, all types of stuff washed up on the beach. However, nothing like the swamp of plastic we see today. It is sad very sad to see what we have done to truly destroy the lives of these beautiful birds. The biggest challenge I remember the baby birds had was landing in the lagoon during their first flights because the lagoon filled up with sharks during the time the young birds start to learn how to fly. Those who had the misfortune of landing usually did not know how to take off from water and were quickly consumed by the sharks.


  20. My husband and I taught school on MIdway in 1962-3. We loved the island and have fond memories 0f it. We were there when one of the Mercury astronauts capsule was brrought to the Island. We would love to hear from anyone that was there during that time period.

  21. I was there in1960 I was the gym manager and also boat house attendent . I pulled skiers a lot . Friends i remember were the Alamedias,Gail ,Diann,Charles.Wood love to hear from any one that remember us.

  22. I was stationed on Midway Island, 1975-1976 as a C-117D pilot and I never saw this much trash. Perhaps one of the few pluses of human occupation was that we kept the island clean. I never saw a bird carcass like those shown of birds that died of object ingestion. I would dearly like one day to volunteer for a cleanup expedition if one could be put together. And I would definitely support an international effort to address dumping garbage at sea. It’s sad to see the first-hand damage of irresponsible behavior like this.

  23. The trailer images are incredibly powerful and disturbing; they alone tell so much of the story. I’ve looked at the blog and the rest of the site. I am wondering if you are including a very specific plan of action here — showing the footage without it will leave the viewers feeling even more despairing and guilty than they did beforehand. Saying that on a global scale we need to do a better job isn’t very helpful — lots of people are doing this in both personal ways, and in larger scale ways. But with an issue like this, clear, specific steps need to be outlined. What has to be done to clean up this specific island; what can address the continuing influx of waste deposits there. Clearly, the numbers of albatross on the island are huge — are there ornithologists weighing in on how it’s possible for such a tiny island to provide food for this many birds? Perhaps a lack of sufficient food for them is also contributing to the reason they are eating the plastic (and perhaps the plastic is preventing healthy food from growing there.) A complete picture of this issue is needed — the photos of the birds needs to be the starting point of an assessment and a thorough plan that can be used as a basis for recruiting agencies that can address the problem. Thanks for all you are doing.

  24. Purely in the interests of accuracy and so as not to diminish the impact of the message you are attempting to convey to an ignorant and indifferent world (not I, I’m interested).

    3rd paragraph, first sentence: “the first trans-atlantic cable” – in the middle of the Pacific ? That would have magnified the already not inconsiderable logistical and technological challenges would it not ?

    I think you mean “the first trans-pacific cable”

    Best regards,

    Derrick Steed.

  25. Some of these comments brought back really great memories. I lived on Midway from 1966-1969 when my dad was in air traffic control. We saw the U.S.O. shows that came in with Bob Hope and President Nixon with his visit. Watching the gooney birds taking off and landing never got old! Midway holds many, many great memories for me and my family. It’s hard to see it in the shape it is in now.

    Barrie Wilber

  26. my father was stoned on Midway from 1952 to 1954. Our family joined him there and my youngest sister was born there in 1954. I have such fond memories of the Goonies and the beach. It was fascinating to be some of the first kids on the island after WWII . Everything was just left as if someone said time to go and they all did. Our school was at the old cable company. All the equipment was there as is. I hope attention can be drawn to our plastic problem. I see it where I live in the Florida Keys as well.

  27. I just posted, but my ipad self corrected. My father was stationed, not stoned on Midway. I do know he had a few beers there.

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  30. I actually put in for Midway Island after finishing A and C schools in Meteorology. I had 2 things on my mind, surfing and fishing. I was blessed to get plenty of both with a 3 day on, 3 day off schedule. The wave on the south side broke to the left of the “junk point” and was a shapely lefthander that at low tide would pop up just outside a considerable coral head just under the surface. You had to get your ass moving on the takeoff or you’d get launched right on it. Once you cleared that hurdle you could litterally tear the face off that wave doing whatever you wanted. It petered out in a foot of water on the reef after about a hundred yard ride. Going out to the pass in boats to surf the northwest swells coming out of the North Pacific was a surfers dream come true. The righthander coming off the north reef would often be 10-12ft or it could be a hair raising 30ft. We didn’t want too much of that. The 10 to 12 ft waves breaking in the cleanest, clearest, bluewater made you feel like nothing in the world could go wrong. It was an easy takeoff that got hollow on the inside reef and would tube all the way to the deepwater pass where our friends would pick us up in the boat and haul us back to the takeoff zone. I doubt too many men or women have sampled the waves at Midway Island. There were maybe 5 of us that surfed there in ’75- ’76. It is a watermans paradise. The food was great and the drinks were a dime at happy hour. It is sad the island has deteriorated.

  31. I was stationed on USNS Midway Island in 1970….the whole year. Great time there, I was the Yeoman for the Motor Pool for 6 months with the Seabees, went home for 30 days and then back and had to do Galley Duty the rest of my time there. The Movie Theatre, Bowling Alley, Golf Course…….The Beaches…..Wow!!! Finding Japanese Fish Balls from their Fish Nets floating to shore. Riding our Horses (Bicycles) all over the Island. Just walking around on the Beaches……watching the Gooney Birds, Fishing off the Pier…..Snorkeling in the Reef……a lot of time to think about Life, fresh Sea Breeze to clean the Lungs out. Man watching the Bike Ride Video put a lot of tears in My Eyes…..Seeing the Baracks that I was in…..looking at the Air Terminal and watching the Birds from the 2nd Deck (Floor) looking out of My Window on My Rack (Bed) from My Compartment…..Gooney Birds…..the Fairy Terns flying around….Just the Life itself on the Island. I would Love to Have the Video of the Bike Ride……Always wanted to go back to the Island, didn’t have the funds for it……Great Memories.

  32. I lived on Midway in 1966. I was 12yrs old. Our family followed my father to the island during his stint there. If I was to ever relive a part of my life it would be then. The goonies, fairy birds, fishballs and life on the island left a place in my heart I will forever cherish. I went to school there and church across the street with potluck dinners after the service. Rode our bikes everywhere since there were no cars except for base transportation. Avoiding getting knocked off those bikes by goonies taking off in flight. Anyone who has lived on Midway knows what I’m talking about. I am saddened to see the pollution that now plagues the island.

  33. Stationed on Eastern July 19, 1957 – July 24, 1958. Saw some plastic then but not like this. I imagine some of the plastic was fed to the adults while they were chicks, and the 5 – 7 years they spent at sea before nesting to raise their own, they ate more of it. By time they hatched their young, their stomachs were half full of this mess and they fed it to the youngsters. I do not think they ate it all in one trip to sea to gather the day’s food! It was an accumulation of several years. For anyone interested, we had a Midway Vets and Former Residents Reunion in Glasgow KY in June, and voted to go back to the same place next year. Google: Midway Reunion 2015 Glasgow KY and you can find info on it. … Midway was my best duty station. When asked if I wanted to re-enlist, I told them if they would send me back to Midway for the next 4 years I would sign right away. They said they couldn’t guarantee that, so I told them to call me if they changed their minds. So far I have not gotten that call!! Someone from Fish and Wildlife spoke at the reunion and says she has a desire to see the island cleaned up, buildings repaired and a visitation program back in place. Time will tell. Hope she was serious, and we can have another reunion back on Midway!! Keep up the work, make the whole world aware of what dumping trash into the ocean can do to not only birds but our food supply. How many fish have eaten this mess and died from it, removing them from our food chain? Don’t litter…at sea or on land!

  34. I had the pleasure of landing on Midway Island back in 1969 as an airman in the Air Force. Spent a year and a half on Guam, then flew home and stopped once again (to refuel both times) on Midway. What a treat. What an island. Sad to hear it is no longer in use, but happy to hear an airliner in trouble was able to use it.

  35. I spent 17 months on that island during 1973- 1974 it was beautiful the diving with my friends was amazing with the albatross the boatswain birds the wild yellow canaries and frig-its that would swoop down at your head during nesting season saw some big tiger sharks and some of the most tasty langustin lobsters ever the best wahoo one true paradise it is a shame what is happening to it now it makes my heart sad i hope to visit again before I die

  36. Dennis,

    I lived on Midway Island in the early sixties. My father headed up the Air Force at that time. My sister and I were very close friends with Gail and diane and did almost everything on the island with them. Oh, how I remember all the water skiing we used to do. It was a haven for teenagers.

  37. My family and I lived on Midway from 1959 to 1963. I attended grade school there. My father, Harry Anderson Sr. Was the Fire Chief covering structures and crash crew. I loved our family time there. I have never found anything else to compare to the beauty of the Island, the water, and of course the wonderful bird and fish life. The sand pure and white adhered to your skin like powered sugar and the warm clear water made all clean again. Catching fish was a snap and I have never found spiny lobsters any where else in the 10 to 12 pound class. Bygone times never to be seen again. Truly heart rendering.

  38. spent only a few months there with the seabees, working on runway repair, loved it, we used to get kicked off the golf course cause we were playin football. mcb1.

  39. I was there with MCB 62 Navy Seabees we repaired every road and runway on the big island it was so beautiful i have always wanted to return we were there from sept 73 to jan 74 then jointed our mainbody in Guam but Midway was the best place ive ever been and goonie birds are the most entertaining show you will ever see if there is any way to ever visit please let me know.

  40. To Geraldine Conrad. I was also on Midway Island at the same time as you were. I worked for Air Traffic Control, RM3 ( Radioman Third Class ) I also have a picture or two of the space capsule when it was there. They had it on a flatbed truck moving it around etc. I remember when they set off the atomic bomb test on Johnston Island I think it was. the sky turned black, blue/green, yellow etc. Scary as heck. I remember when the U2 landed and changed out the camera film, ( enough said about that ) My question for you is, I recall some marines getting killed by a fellow marine. Their names were Powers, Palmer, and Knoloff. Seems the one that his name eludes me got a dear john letter and these three teased him so much he lost it. The entire island had to go to dress whites because he was in a different uniform. We sent to Hawaii for a guy to come and clear all the pill boxes . They found him in one where he killed himself. Do you remember any of this. I can’t find anything on it no where. Testing your memory. If you would like to contact me, please feel free. my email address is Bobl1128@twc.com. Also I would love to hear from anyone else that was on the island between 1962-1963. Thanks. Bob

  41. I was on midway 1975-76 in the Seabees, It’s the most beautiful island,I had the best time of my life there, had one tv station one radio station,watched jaws on an ol reel to reel in the enlisted men’s bar when first came out ,it’s just so sad

  42. I Lived on Midway as a child. I was about 10 or 11 and lived there for a couple of years. My dad was in the Navy and I believe he managed the commisary. went to school there and have fond memories of fun times at school and many community events. I loved the Goonie birds and the Trucks that use to arrive every so often to bring soda and chips and things like that. I even broke my nose there and was rushed to the hospital on my moms bike. I remember playing near a cemetary and hanging at the beach we called rusty bucket.I would love to return to see it now

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