By Bert Ho, Senior Underwater Archaeologist - National Park Service
May 9, 2017
Each day of the mission, we have been conducting magnetometer surveys and covering parts of Midway Atoll that have never been surveyed with these instruments. There have been numerous previous missions for marine debris removal by diver towed surveys, and their rate of success is incredible in the amount of fishing debris they find. It’s also disheartening to see their results amassed in dozens of large, heavy duty bags lining the concrete slabs where PBY seaplanes were once anchored, knowing that humans have littered the sea with so much.
During our anomaly investigations, we have also been seeing underwater litter and debris that has been left by humans. I-beams from day markers in the channel, wire rope, and all sorts of twisted metal left behind or discarded into the atoll’s waters by its previous inhabitants are all found in great amounts throughout the survey blocks. These are all reminders of the telegraph company, the Navy base here during World War II, and the subsequent activity here during the Cold War before the eventual departure of the military in the 1990s.
However, between the more modern debris scattered throughout the atoll, there are reminders of Midway’s role as a safe harbor in a time long before world wars occurred over great expanses of sea and sky. We have been finding several very large anchors in multiple areas of the atoll’s inner lagoon. They are admiralty anchors, stockless, some with stud-linked chain, and almost all have one fluke dug deep into the seafloor, holding fast and proud.
These are reminders that not only was Midway strategically important for both the United States and Japan to hold and fight over, but it was just as important to the whaling fleets and other mariners searching for resources or transiting the Pacific a century prior. Midway was known as a destination for the American and Japanese whalers and fishermen. It was known to the native Hawaiians. They have all left remnants of the past, and slowly, dive after dive, mile after mile of survey, we are finding small pieces of their history. With a little luck, perhaps we will find the pieces we are looking for: the planes lost in the Battle of Midway.