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Voyage to Kure: The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

<< Expedition Diaries | About the Islands

Midway Atoll

Satellite photo of Midway Atoll

Hawaiian name: Pihemanu (“the loud din of birds”).

Early inhabitants were castaway crews of several large sailing vessels.

Was claimed for the United States by Captain N.C. Middlebrooks in 1859 under the Guano Act, which allowed Americans to occupy uninhabited lands to obtain guano. It was the first offshore island annexed by the United States and is the only island in the NWHI not to become part of the state of Hawaii.

Geographical position made it a key midway location for early trans-Pacific cable communications (1903) and seaplane flights (1935).

As a naval base, Midway was first attacked the same day as Pearl Harbor. During the Battle of Midway six months later (June 1942), U.S. forces, warned by intelligence reports, surprised and defeated a Japanese invasion fleet. The battle is viewed by some historians as a major turning point in World War II.

At times the atoll has been home to up to 6,000 servicemen and dependents.

In 1996, the U.S. Navy removed tons of debris, leaky fuel tanks and lead paint, as well as rats, and turned the military base over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Close to 2 million birds of 19 species nest on the atoll.

Midway has the largest Laysan albatross colony in the world.