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Midway Atoll

Midway Atoll, sometimes referred to as Midway Island or the Midway Islands, is a 6.2 square kilometer atoll located in the North Pacific Ocean (part of the Hawaiian archipelago) at 28°13' N, 177°22' W, about one-third of the way between Honolulu and Tokyo. It consists of a ring-shaped barrier reef and several sand islets. The two significant pieces of land, Sand Island and Eastern Island, provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of seabirds.

Midway Atoll is one of a chain of volcanic islands, atolls, and seamounts extending from Hawaii up to the tip of the Aleutian Islands and known as the Hawaii-Emperor chain. Midway was formed roughly 28 million years ago when the seabed underneath it was over the same hot spot from which the Island of Hawai'i is now being formed. In fact, Midway was once a shield volcano perhaps as large as the island of Lana'i. Over millions of years, the island subsided by a process known as isostatic adjustment. A coral reef around the former volcanic island was able to maintain itself close to sea level by growing upwards as the whole subsided, and that reef is now over 400 m thick. What remains is a shallow water atoll about 10 kilometers across.

Midway is best known as the location of the Battle of Midway, fought in World War II on June 4, 1942. The nearby United States Navy defeated a Japanese attack against the Midway islands, marking a turning point in the war in the Pacific theatre.

The atoll, which has no indigenous inhabitants, is an unincorporated territory of the United States formerly administered from Washington, DC, by the US Navy's Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific Division and defense is the responsibility of the US; however, this facility has been operationally closed since September 10, 1993. On October 31, 1996, through a presidential executive order, the jurisdiction and control of the atoll was transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. Its data code is MQ. It is open to the public for wildlife-related recreation in the form of wildlife observation and photography, sport fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The economy is based on providing support services for these activities. All food and manufactured goods must be imported.

The atoll has some 32 kilometers of roads, 7.8 kilometers of pipelines, one port (on Sand Islet), and three runways (two paved, around 2000 meters long, and one unpaved, around 1000 meters long).


Midway was discovered in 1859 by N.C. Brooks, captain of the sealing ship Gambia. By claiming Midway for the United States under the Guano Act of 1856, Midway became the only island in the entire Hawaiian archipelago that was not later part of the State of Hawai`i. Midway is the most frequently visited locale in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). It lies nearly halfway between North America and Asia. It also lies almost halfway around the earth from Greenwich, England.

The islands of Midway Atoll have been extensively altered as a result of human habitation. Starting in 1869 with a project to blast the reefs and create a port on Sand Island, the ecology of Midway has been changing. Birds native to other NWHI islands, such as the Laysan Rail and Laysan Finch, were released at Midway. Ironwood trees from Australia were planted to act as windbreaks. Seventy-five percent of the 200 species of plants on Midway are introduced. The location of Midway in the Pacific became important first to commercial airlines and, later, to the military. Midway was a convenient refueling stop on transpacific flights. It also became an important stop for Navy ships. Around 1940, the channel was widened, and construction of a Naval Air Station was completed. Midway's importance to the U.S. was brought into focus on December 7, 1941. Six months later, on June 3, 1942, a naval battle near Midway resulted in the U.S. Navy exacting a devastating defeat of the Japanese Navy. This battle was, by some accounts, the beginning of the end of the Japanese Navy's control of the Pacific Ocean.

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