Like tiny pearls floating in a vast sea, the tiny islands and atolls of the North Pacific Ocean can be difficult to view from space as they sit in the deep blue expanse of the North Pacific Ocean. In mid-January, 2013 NASA’s Aqua satellite passed over the region as the Midway Islands were beautifully visible through a thin layer of clouds. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer flying aboard that satellite captured this true-color image of the Midway Islands on January 18 at 00:50 UTC (12:05 p.m. Marshall Island Time).
In this image, the Midway Islands, also known as the Midway Atoll, is the bright jewel tone ring nearest the center. The beautiful blue and silver coloration is not from the land mass, but from the coral reef ringing the island. At the highest resolution, the scant 6.2 km2 of land appears tan. Sand Island is the largest island and sits to the west of second largest island in the atoll, Eastern Island. At its peak, the land only rises only 13 meters above sea level.
Midway Atoll is located approximately 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii and about “midway” between the west coast of the United States and East Asia. It is also just 150 miles east of the International Dateline, making it truly “midway” around the world from the Greenwich meridian. It sits on the far northern end of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and is the only atoll or island in the Hawaiian archipelago not part of the State of Hawaii. In 1988, Midway became a National Wildlife Refuge and is now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The rich waters and bits of land that make up Midway Atoll provide a home for a wide variety of species. A complex community of invertebrates and coral reef fishes thrive in the protected lagoon and in the reefs. An estimated 3 million individual birds of at least 21 species nest on the tiny islands, filling nearly every square inch of available habitat. The beaches provide nursing grounds for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, and a place for threatened green turtles to haul out for a much needed rest.