A new battle begins on the island of Midway Atoll as wildlife preservation is pit against the preservation of the island’s historic military history.
The Battle of Midway during World War II was a turning point in the Pacific and thousands of soldiers died as a result of it. Now, the island is a sanctuary for millions of seabirds and is the largest colony of Laysan albatrosses on Earth. The endangered short-tailed albatross can only be found on Midway and one other Pacific island. The endangered Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtle also show up on Midway’s shores.
President Barack Obama previously traveled to the island of Midway to announce an expansion to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, in what is now the world’s biggest oceanic preserve.
“I look forward to knowing that 20 years from now, 40 years from now, 100 years from now, this is a place where people can still come to and see what a place like this looks like when it’s not overcrowded and destroyed by human populations,” Obama said, the Associated Press reported.
During the Battle of Midway, roughly 3,000 Japanese died as well as more than 300 Americans. The public has not been allowed to visit the monument for years.
The buildings on the island of Midway are boarded up except for the facilities used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Fish and Wildlife has every right and obligation to protect the wildlife, but they also have an obligation to protect the historic sites and the meaning of Midway,” said James D’Angelo, founder of the International Midway Memorial Foundation. “It is precisely because of the men that lived and died that that memory should never be forgotten.”
The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1988 while the island was still under Navy control, but in 1996, the wildlife agency took over through a mandate that said that they would preserve both the historical significance of the island as well as the wildlife. In 2000, the site was designated the National Memorial to the Battle of Midway.
Midway collects tons of man-made debris due to its location along the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Many birds die each year due to the plastic waste that washes up on shore even though the agency removes about 20 tons of plastic and debris each year.
An island visitors program was created back in 1996 at no cost to taxpayers, but with only one month of profitability in a six year time span, the Georgia-based Phoenix Midway Corp pulled out and the visitor program was limited and nearly done.
In 2014, an oversight hearing was held by the Congressional Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs regarding Midway.
“Objective observers can certainly question whether it was a mistake to transfer this sacred ground to an agency that is far better equipped to maintain birds than visitors,” chairman John Fleming said.
“Preservation of historic resources is expensive,”Guam Rep. Madeleine Bordallo said . “If we value it as a country, we should pay for it.”
In 2016, the Government Accountability Office(GOA) made the conclusion that the agency maintained most historic sites, but there were seven others that were torn down without public notice.
Funding has become an issue for the GOA as it has been cut from $4 million to less than $3 million, which is why public visitation was ended in 2012.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Megan Nagel said that the World War II structures weren’t made to last long periods of time and lead paint chips were coming off the structures. Albatrosses eat the chips and become sick.
According to Nagel, modern accommodations would need to be made so that visitors don’t impede on the ecosystem.