The near-abandoned 40-population American Island which no one has been allowed to visit for a decade

Tom Sanders

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The near-abandoned 40-population American Island which no one has been allowed to visit for a decade

Featured Image Credit: All Canada Photos/Alamy Stock Photo/Photo Resource Hawaii/Alamy Stock Photo

When you think about the most remote places in the US, your first thoughts might be somewhere like Alaska, or perhaps a tiny little town tucked away somewhere in the midwest. But there’s actually a place that’s so remote, it makes the pair of them look like New York City.

Around 3000 miles off the coast of the US lies a tiny cluster of volcanic islands known as Midway Atoll, which barely stick above the pacific ocean.

The largest of these islands is only around 2sq miles round, with the rest combined only adding up to an extra two and a half miles of landmass - approximately a tenth the size of Manhattan.

Yet despite its small stature and remote location, Midway Atoll has a rich and storied history.

The largest of the Midway Atoll islands is approximately 2sq miles around. Credit: U.S Fish & Wildlife Service
The largest of the Midway Atoll islands is approximately 2sq miles around. Credit: U.S Fish & Wildlife Service

Following its discovery in 1859, the island was formally claimed by the US in 1903, and its first inhabitants moved in shortly thereafter as part of the effort to lay a trans-Pacific telegraph cable. Military personnel soon accompanied them and built the island’s first - and only - military base.

In the late 1930s, the atoll became a landing site for aircraft crossing the Pacific Ocean and the island itself played a small but pivotal role in World War 2 when US forces defeated the Japanese navy just six months after the Pearl Harbour bombings.

At its peak the island housed around 5,000 people, nearly all of them military personnel.

However, following the end of WWII, the island became less of a strategic outpost for the US military and in 1996, the military bases were officially decommissioned and the island was designated a national wildlife refuge and granted protected status.

Roughly 40 people live on the island to this day. Credit: U.S Fish & Wildlife Service
Roughly 40 people live on the island to this day. Credit: U.S Fish & Wildlife Service

Today, roughly 40 people currently live on the island, with nearly all of them being contractors and employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Access to the island is strictly monitored in order to protect the local wildlife population and visitation is possible only for business reasons after the tourism program was shut down in 2012 due to budget cutbacks.

In 2012, the last year that the visitor program was in operation, just 332 people ended up making the trip to Midway. 

And as for the economy - it is derived solely from governmental sources and, prior to that, tourist fees. Nearly all supplies must be brought to the island by ship or plane, although the island does have a small greenhouse and garden in order to provide its few inhabitants with some fresh fruits and vegetables.

Midway Atoll is known for its large bird population, including rare breeds of albatross. Credit: Philip Mugridge/Alamy Stock Photo
Midway Atoll is known for its large bird population, including rare breeds of albatross. Credit: Philip Mugridge/Alamy Stock Photo

Outside of the defunct naval base, the wildlife centre and a military monument, the only other structure of note on the archipelago is a small cemetery on Sand Island known as Doctor’s Cemetery because four medical doctors are buried there. Their dates of death range from 1906 to 1950.

The only other notable fact about the island is its large bird population, with the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge housing 21 different breeds of seabirds - about 3 million individual birds - including several rare species of albatross, which have come to be known as the figureheads of the island.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected] 

Topics: News, Hawaii

Tom Sanders

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