The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Midway Atoll part 2)

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, dolphins, dolphin pod, zodiac

After a couple days of gathering our gear, clean up our workstation and building out our zodiac boats we were finally able to hit the water.  Although it might not be obvious from the photos, our first few days in the field we met with some pretty inclement weather.  Winds were over 20knots. The rain would come and go, but what surprised me the most was how much colder Midway was from Oahu.  Perhaps I’ve just become spoiled after 8 years on Oahu, but the water on Midway felt frigid to me.  Even though we would working on the beach everyday, I would keep my jacket on constantly.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, NOAA, black, footed, albatross, clean up, marine, debris

My favorite sea birds in these islands were the Black-Footed Albatrosses.  They seemed a tad bigger to me than the Laysan Albatrosses.  I found it interesting that despite occurring on the same islands and sharing the same stretches of beach, the two species displayed noticeably different behaviors.  The two species had different mating dances and songs.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, seashell, shell, NOAA

These shells could be found all over the beaches around the Midway Islands. They would rand in color from bleach white to dark charcoal color.  The starfish looking imprint on the top of the shell would leave me to believe that these are a sort of echinoderm test. But I do not recall ever seeing things down on Oahu.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA

Our jobs consisted of conducting marine debris accumulation surveys around the various islands we would be visiting, as well as collecting as much plastic debris as we could from the shorelines.  Plastic debris would anything from cigaret lighters, to fishing floats, oyster spacer tubes, derelict fishing gear (such as nets, lines and eel cone traps).  As these islands are a sanctuary to a multitude of seabirds, sea turtles and monk seals, we wanted to remove all the entanglement hazards we could possibly find.  In the above photo a barricade located along the beach and in the water prevented us from driving our zodiac up to the shoreline to fill it with the nets we had found.  Consequently, we had to drag 1000s of lbs of net through the sand, along to beach to load them in our boats.

Albatrosses, Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, WW2, World, War, two, 2, military, canon, guns

A loan gun forever watches over the horizon. Even though the US military pulled out of Midway half a century ago, the footprints of their presence and the scares of World War 2 still littered the landscape of these tiny islands.  Yet, I found hope in witnessing nature slowly regain a foothold there.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, albatross, chick, garbage, trash, junk, derelict, fishing, gear, line, net

Unfortunately, lines and nets can often make “comfy” nests birds or pillows for monk seals.  But the animals do get tangled and die as a result.  I must admit, it was very sad to be so far from civilization and see beaches completely saturated in garbage (more than I’ve ever seen on any beach in my life).

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA

Lunchbreaks were always amazing.  After digging up and dragging around hundreds (sometimes thousands) of pounds of nets, we could finally sit down and appreciate the gorgeous beach we had just cleaned.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, Monk, seal

Curious monk seals would often come by to inspect our work, or perhaps to thank us :D.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, dolphins, pod, zodiac

Somedays, we were lucky enough to be escorted back into harbor by a resident pod of spinner dolphins.  Absolutely breathtaking animals. We all just wanted to jump in with them so badly.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, dolphins

These guys would brighten our day so much.  Personally, seeing them would make me want to remove even more debris, just to minimize the risk of drifting ghost nets and other junk potentially harming them.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, spinner, dolphin

They would put on quite the show for us!

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, underwater, dolphin, pod

They would come so close to our boat, I was able to snap a few quick underwater shots before we had to get back and unload the boats.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Northwestern, Hawaiian, Islands, sand, beach, marine, debris, clean up, NOAA, underwater, dolphin, pod

At last our marine debris removal operations had finally begun.  Midway Atoll just kept becoming more and more amazing at every turn.  I still can’t believe I was invited to be a part of such an amazing mission, with such a dope team in one the best places on the planet.  Don’t forget to check out “part 1” of our trip and stay tuned for more.

8 thoughts on “The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Midway Atoll part 2)

  1. oatmealishious June 14, 2016 / 12:46 am

    Hi!
    Very interesting read. How did you come about to do such work?

    • sunshinehawaii June 14, 2016 / 3:43 am

      Thank you so much! I was extremely fortunate and was invited by the project coordinator who was looking for people that would compliment his field team. He asked me if I wanted to take a break from research and go to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It did not take much coercing to get me to accept. I had been dreaming go going to these islands for years.
      But I guess to answer your question, I was just extremely lucky.

  2. Bespoke Traveler June 27, 2016 / 9:44 pm

    So heartening to read that you agreed to go on this project clean-up and to see the hard work you and the crew performed! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • sunshinehawaii June 28, 2016 / 4:06 am

      It was amazing to be a part of. I have to thank the crew for inviting me!

  3. Hope February 15, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    sick pictures, I wanted to say I had found one of the starfish imprinted shells on North Beach on Oahu. I had never seen one or herd of it before and I tried to bring it back but it shattered. Always wondered what it was and wanted to find another one. Hopefully I can go volunteer in NorthWestern Islands soon.

    • Sunshine February 16, 2017 / 12:05 am

      Oh cool! Ya they are super fragile. I wanted to bring some home, but they didn’t even survive the sort boat ride between Island at Midway. If you ever get a chance to go up there, I would definitely take it. You will feel as though you are living in a documentary. Super special place.

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