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Life on the Atoll Is Isolated

June 26, 2002

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MIDWAY ATOLL (AP) _ John Klavitter knows about the war on terrorism.

The thing is, as a wildlife biologist and one of 30 or so residents on this remote Pacific island chain 1,200 miles from the nearest television station, keeping up with such events doesn’t exactly come easy.

``I haven’t missed current events at all,″ said Klavitter, 33, who moved to Midway in March. ``When I came out here, the war on terrorism was going on and for me, in my mind, it sort of ended. I haven’t thought about it in the three months that I’ve been here.

``In some ways it’s sort of refreshing. I know I have a patriotic duty to be informed and so forth, but in some ways it puts me at ease _ I don’t have as much to worry about.″

Such is life on the atoll _ an existence devoid of the daily tribulations of city life that requires a love of outdoors and a willingness to be separated from the rest of the world.

There is no TV, but who needs to watch ``Survivor″ when you’re in a setting like this?

There is no newspaper service.

There is no long-distance telephone service. A single satellite phone _ which also services the island’s sole Internet computer _ connects Midway to the outside world.

Supplies are flown in about once a month by a charter flight, and once or twice a year a military supply ship passes by the atoll, which is about 1,200 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian islands.

Midway today is a refuge home to more than 1 million Laysan albatrosses _ better known as gooney birds _ as well as other seafaring birds, turtles, seals and other wildlife.

Sixty years ago, from June 4-6, it was the site of a pivotal battle of World War II. For three days, American dive bombers and fighter pilots fended off the Japanese naval fleet’s attempt to secure Midway, sinking four of the fleet’s carriers.

For the remainder of the war, the atoll provided a key port for U.S. ships and submarines that allowed them to remain in the Pacific theater without having to return to Pearl Harbor or the U.S. mainland for maintenance.

Today, there is not even a car on Midway, only a bus and a van that once shuttled tourists around. Getting around the 2.5 square miles of Midway calls for a golf cart, a bicycle or _ the preferred method _ walking.

Scattered buildings, fueling stations, barracks and even a shuttered shopping mall serve as a reminder of when the atoll served as a Navy base and was home to about 1,500 people. Now, about 30 people _ mostly employees who oversee the atoll’s minimal infrastructure _ call Midway home.

The Navy has been gone since 1993, replaced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which took over the atoll in 1996 as a national wildlife refuge and contracted with a private company to offer public access through environmental tours.

But today the atoll has no public access. Midway Phoenix Corp. and its 150 or so employees pulled out in March citing high operating costs. The government is in the process of finding a new tour operator.

``That will all come back to us eventually,″ said Tim Bodeen, the National Wildlife Refuge manager at Midway who has lived there since January. ``It’s just a slow process. Everything at Midway, the time length is always accentuated because logistically it’s hard.

``You’ve just got to learn to be very patient.″

That’s a lesson his wife expects to learn quickly.

Unlike other travelers on a recent visit to Midway, Stephanie Bodeen and the couple’s two daughters, ages 7 and 10, weren’t on the return flight to Hawaii. They were moving to the atoll to join her husband for what is expected to be a two- to three-year stay.

``I’m a little concerned that I’m sort of falling off the map and I won’t be able to keep contact as easily, but I’m hoping that it’ll be OK,″ she said.

Upon their arrival this month, it didn’t take the girls long to get acquainted with the island’s activities. It has beaches, hiking trails and a bowling alley and pottery shop that were both left over from the Navy. Workers also hope to restore an old movie theater.

Some former residents say the island is what you make of it.

``You made your own fun,″ said Richard Kelley, 54, a former Navy weather officer who lived on Midway with his wife and two young sons from 1976-78. ``It was like a tiny American town _ with nothing around for 1,200 miles.″


On the Net:

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge: http://midway.fws.gov/

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