Hard Work

Midway Islands Travel Blog

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Removing the toxic waste barge from the reef
After years of working on this Navy sponsored project to clean up the island as they moved out, I finally got a field visit. You should have seen it, I was nice to big bosses, analyzed horrible data sets, whatever it took to stay involved in the project. They finally needed a biologist, so I flew out.

In the 70's some commander had gotten the brilliant idea of putting a bunch of toxic waste in drums, loading them on a barge, and sinking it on the reef, just offshore. Surprisingly... the drums quicking corroded in the seawater and PCBs were leaking out. They hired a bunch of construction guys, hazmat workers, and deployed a group of Navy SEAL divers to salvage the barge, cut it up, and bury the waste in a pit in the middle of the island. My job as to make sure the wildlife was protected while they did this.
Big toxic tank
Besides the three-quarters of a million albatross, there were endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, and other creatures "in the way".

It was hard work. Turns out the biggest task was moving albatross. That dump truck that made the island look so small from the air turned out to be one of those huge mining trucks where the wheels tower over your head. Island is still small though, only 1 by 1-half kilometer... anyway, they would cut up pieces of the barge, haul them ashore, and the giant truck would make a trip across the island to the landfill. I'd walk ahead of the truck, moving albatross out of it's path. Between the trips I'd keep an eye out for curious seals or turtles heading into the underwater demolition area.

By the time I arrived, the albatross had big, fuzzy chicks.
The adults are very docile. The chicks aren't. They'll stand their ground, bite, and spray you with stomach acid when you pick them up. My job ...to pick up chicks and move them. Great...
These birds spend most of their lives in the air, soaring over remote, open stretches of ocean. They come in to Midway, the only real speck of land for 1500 miles in any direction to nest in the spring. There are no predators, so they are completely tame. To move them, you just walk up, pick one up you your arms, and put it down where you want it. It immediately starts slowly wattling back to it's original position when you put it down. As the truck would creep forward, I'd move hundreds of birds out to the sides, and they'd sort of fill in behind the truck if it crept forward. If there was any little glitch, the birds would move in on the truck, stopping it, and I'd re-move all the birds with the driver cursing at me in Tagalog until he could move again.
Getting certified to handle and move albatross
Day after day for a month.

The chicks were a different story. They too would just sit there, but had nasty tempers. I think they were fussy because they still had a dense, almost wooly coat of feathers, and the temperature had quickly climbed to the mid nineties. They would bite; spray you with foul, fishy, corrosive stomach acid; and generally try to kill you as you moved them. Note that (50% of the birds were chicks..) They were heavy too, full of fish oil and fat they probably weighed 7 lbs. The adults felt almost hollow since the were mostly feathers and had hollow bones. I still have scars on my inner arms from moving chicks!

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Removing the toxic waste barge fro…
Removing the toxic waste barge fr…
Big toxic tank
Big toxic tank
The adults are very docile.  The c…
The adults are very docile. The …
Getting certified to handle and mo…
Getting certified to handle and m…
Huge engine block from the barge
Huge engine block from the barge
Landfill site was covered with pla…
Landfill site was covered with pl…
The lovely Base Camp:  3 cargo con…
The lovely Base Camp: 3 cargo co…
The goonies danced right through a…
The goonies danced right through …
Midway Islands
photo by: cneoridium