The Midway Islands or Midway Atoll  is a wildlife refuge in the north Pacific Ocean, roughly "midway" between California and East Asia, just east of the International Date Line. It was made famous by an Oscar-winning color documentary in 1942, and a 1976 feature film, both about the battle which marked a turning point in World War II.
Please Note: Due to budget issues within the U.S. federal government, all travel to Midway Atoll was suspended in 2013, and has been suspended through 2016. There is no word yet whether or not travel to the atoll will be suspended beyond 2016.
Midway is part of the extended series of Pacific islands which include Hawaii. It is an atoll of several low, sandy islands. The two largest are Sand Island (the most developed) and Eastern Island (not to be confused with Easter Island), with the smaller Spit Island between them. A coral reef nearly encircles them (one of the most northerly coral formations of this kind). The three largest islands total 6.2 sq km in area; their collective coastline is 15km. The highest point is 13m above sea level. The climate is subtropical, but moderated by prevailing easterly winds.
The U.S. took formal possession of the islands in 1867. In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt declared the islands a seabird conservation area. Later in 1903 the laying of a trans-Pacific telegraph cable, which passed through the islands, brought the first residents. Between 1935 and 1947, Midway was used as a refueling stop for trans-Pacific flights, and a hotel was built to house passengers. A naval base was constructed shortly before the U.S. entered World War II, and the victory over a Japanese fleet off Midway in 1942 was one of the war's turning points. Although the islands and surrounding waters were designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1988, they continued to serve as a naval facility until 1993. The atoll was transferred to civilian control in 1996 following an environmental restoration effort. The US Fish & Wildlife Service manages Midway as part of the Papahanamokuakea Marine National Monument.
Entry into the Midway Islands is heavily restricted and requires a special-use permit to visit, often from the U.S. Military or the US Fish and Wildlife Services. And they both generally only give permits to scientists and educators. This even applies to U.S. and American Samoan citizens.
A private air charter company based in Honolulu provides air service to the Midway Islands on their 19-seat Gulfstream with a capacity of 3200-lbs. [Ashville contract cancelled as of June 2014, awaiting new carrier] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the atoll, currently has a suspended visitor program to accommodate small groups of interested visitors. Organizations or individuals wishing to visit Midway Atoll must apply for a permit from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument months in advance of their intended visit. Currently a marine conservation non-profit called Oceanic Society is offering naturalist led eco-tours consisting of groups limited to 16 participants. [Non-op as of 2014] The tours are natural history focused, and offer one excursion to Eastern Island, and at least one snorkeling trip to the emergent reef. In addition to the Oceanic Society tours, Military Historical Tours (miltours.com) offers once-yearly day trips to the island on June 3rd. [last done for 70th Anniversary 2012, possibly again for 75th] Participants arrive around noon on a chartered United 737-800 (formerly Continental Micronesia) from Honolulu and leave around 8:00 that evening. These tours include official ceremonies commemorating The Battle of Midway and also offer some time to explore the island. There is a harbor on Sand Island, and Henderson Field Airport on Sand Island is fully FAA certified and kept operational around the clock as an emergency landing strip for many trans-Pacific flights. Without this runway being maintained many twin engine jets would have to choose alternate routes that would use much more fuel. Travelers with their own means of transportation can inquire with the FWS about visiting. However sailors must still apply for the above permits months in advance of visiting and the Monument has very strict guidelines that must be followed in order to transit through these protected waters. A few examples are that vessels must have their hull cleaned prior to entrance and owners must pay $1500 for the required monitoring devices that track vessel movements while in monument waters. These requirements are in place to try to inhibit the introduction of invasive species and make sure that the fragile coral reefs are not jeopardized by errant sailors. Cruise ships crossing the Pacific sometimes stop outside of the atoll, using tenders to deliver passengers to Sand Island for day visits ashore however even these cruise ships must adhere to the strict permitting guidelines in order to pass through and visit the protected Monuments waters [Has never happened in recent history]. Day visitors from cruise ships are guided by US Fish and Wildlife staff on excursions to see historic memorials to the battle of Midway, the nesting areas of over 2 million albatross, as well as many other seabirds. [Cruise ship idea fizzled years ago]. Midway is also home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and Laysan teal as well as over 200 spinner dolphins and many green sea turtles.
Bikes and golf carts are available for rent. Bikes $5/day, Golf carts $25/day. Walking is easy since the terrain is flat. Just stick to the roads and trails to prevent ankle sprains.
Nearly 5 million members of 17 species of seabirds nest on the islands, including 2 million albatrosses; both Laysan and Black-footed. 80% of the world's population of Laysan albatrosses are found at Midway, more affectionately known as the "gooney bird" for their awkward landings and especially for their entertaining mating rituals. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals (7-8 feet, up to 500 lbs) haul themselves onto land to rest and to give birth and raise their young. Giant green sea turtles (up to 400 lbs) are frequent visitors and have recently been documented nesting on Midways beaches, and a pod of 250-300 spinner dolphins lives and often performs acrobatics in and around the atoll's shallow lagoon. A flock of about 500 feral canaries exist, having been introduced by the Commercial Pacific Cable Company in 1903. There is also a small but growing population of Laysan ducks, the most endangered waterfowl in the northern hemisphere.
The islands also contain memorials and artifacts of the 1942 Battle of Midway. As well as the original Cable buildings erected in 1903.
The primary activities on Midway Atoll are nature viewing, wildlife photography, snorkeling, kayaking and touring the World War II historical sites. Although scuba diving was once available to visitors, it is now available only to researchers working on the island. Fishing is prohibited because previous "catch and release" practices on the shore reduced the number of Ulua at Midway. North Beach is open to humans, but other beaches are normally off limits and reserved for sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, both of which are endangered and protected under federal law. Midway Bowl is open occasionally upon request. A miniature golf course on Sand Island is not being restored and has largely deteriorated.
US Fish & Wildlife employs about 4 staff personnel and is restarting the program for volunteers to stay for 3 to 4 month stints throughout the year. Also USFWS has brought out a contractor to operate the facilities at Midway. This company is called Chugach and is an Alaska Native corporation (ANC) based out of Anchorage, Alaska. Currently employing about 40 persons. Most hourly employees are foreign workers from Thailand, but some are US citizens hired for a variety of needs. Additionally there are 2 airport/fireman contract workers, and one PA, these positions all periodically are advertised as open on various websites.
Sand Island has a small "Ship Store" that carries basic items, snack type foods, and alcohol. They also rent DVDs. Nearby a small gift store run by "The Friends of Midway" sells T-shirts, postcards, books, recordings of the bird colonies, and other items.
All meals are served at "The Clipper House" which now serves as Midway's galley to the 60 or so residents, and the visiting tourist groups and researchers. Meals are served three times a day at the regular posted hours only. The most popular food item in the Clipper House is the soft-serve ice cream machine. Beverages and ice are available in the hotel lobby, but there are no snack machines.
Water is a precious commodity on any island. The water at Midway is pure and safe to drink. Island residents carry and use refillable aluminum water bottles. Visitors should bring their own. Once you see the amount of plastic that washes up on the shores of the atoll you will understand why plastic bottles are shunned. Alcohol is served in the local bar for 2-3 hours several nights per week.
There are no true "hotels" at Midway. Old naval barracks have been refurbished as comfortable hotel rooms, each with a private bath. During the albatross breeding season (winter) up until the time that the chicks fledge (summer) there is the constant sound of the albatross. Ear plugs are advised.
There is no crime on Midway, though there is an old navy brig that can be used as a jail. Rule breakers are put on the next plane out.
Midway is staffed with a Physician Assistant, and one of the airport workers is EMT trained. The medical clinic includes an emergency room and ambulance golf cart. Biggest worries are sunburn, dehydration, and twisted ankles. Venturing off the posted pathways and trails presents a very real danger due to the unstable, sandy terrain chock-full of holes created by burrowing petrels. However, the existence of an active runway (Sand Island) makes it possible to stage any medical evacuations of injured or seriously ill individuals from Midway to Honolulu. Evacuations by air are expensive and are generally NOT covered by regular health insurance. Visitors are advised to have travel insurance that specifically covers medical evacuations. Through a partnership with Travel Guard, Diver's Alert Network (DAN) offers such insurance at very reasonable rates. Each insured pays the same rate regardless of age, and each individual traveler needs insurance. For the best coverage, purchase least 15 days in advance of your travel. DAN insures both divers and non-divers alike.