DATE: October 8, 2015
AUTHOR: Hannah Waters
Midway Atoll is one of the biggest seabird colonies in the world. There, 19 seabird species, including 75 percent of the world’s Laysan Albatross population, gather to breed. The islands’ more than 1,500 acres does not mean they are safe—“[the atoll is] actually quite vulnerable to sea level rise,” Courtot says [Karen Courtot, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who monitors Midway’s seabirds]. The islands are low-lying, averaging 3.2 meters in elevation, and sea level at Midway is rising at a rate of 5 millimeters per year—faster than the global average—which makes the impact of storms all the greater. Courtot and her team “wanted to look closer at what species would be most vulnerable,” she says.
“When you include the storm wave piece on top of the sea level rise piece, the impacts happen a lot earlier,” says Nat Seavy, research director of bird conservation non-profit Point Blue (he was not involved in the research). “And sea level rise is happening even faster than predicted, which means that these impacts will happen even sooner.”