Biology Professor Shares Adventures to the Unique and Isolated Midway Atoll

Dr. Elizabeth Rave in the Midway Islands.

Dr. Elizabeth Rave in the Midway Islands.

Dr. Elizabeth Rave, professor of biology at Bemidji State University, will open the Department of Biology’s annual lecture series Aug. 29 with a unique view of albatross populations on the remote Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

In December and January, as part of her sabbatical, Rave was one of a group of 18 volunteers who were chosen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to support its annual survey of Laysan and black-footed albatross on Midway.

Rave’s doctoral research was done on Hawaiian geese, and during her first sabbatical a decade ago she researched Hawaiian ducks.

“I’ve been immersed in Hawaii for more than 25 years,” Rave said. “The leaders of the albatross count project are consistent but they select a new research team every year. There was a formal application process with reference checks, and I was lucky to be chosen.”

Rave was part of a team surveying the millions of albatross which nest on Midway. She said the team counted more than 585,000 nests during the survey — nearly 1.2 million birds in breeding pairs. She will share details for how a small team of 18 undertakes a project to count more than a million birds in three weeks, and also talk about albatross biology and habitat.

“I’ll spend some time talking about the threats albatrosses face,” she said. “Climate change is leading to less habitat for them. They nest on very low-lying islands that are having their beaches eliminated due to rising sea levels.

“I’ll also talk about plastic; so many birds have ingested plastic,” she said. “It gets into the ocean and doesn’t decay. There’s a large amount of plastic that washes up on shore at Midway or lies on top of the ocean. Birds eat it and it gets into their systems, and then they regurgitate it and it ends up in their young.”

Rave will also share a bit about the overall experience of being at Midway, which was also the site of a pivotal naval battle in World War 2.

“It was a decisive battle and it happened right there,” she said. “I got a chance to see a lot of historical sites that most people don’t get to see, and that’s part of the overall experience of being on Midway.”

Rave’s presentation, “The Magic of Midway Atoll,” begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 in Sattgast Hall 208 on the BSU campus. Biology Lecture Series presentations are open free to all.

The Biology Lecture Series is sponsored by BSU’s Department of Biology and by Sanford Health Bemidji.

About Midway Islands

The Midway Islands are unincorporated U.S. territory in the Hawaiian archipelago — but not part of the state of Hawaii — located approximately 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu. The islands — Eastern Island and Sand Island — have a total surface area of approximately 2.4 square miles and sit on a coral atoll which has a circumference of approximately 15 miles.

The Battle of Midway, a pivotal conflict in World War II’s Pacific theatre, was fought in the waters near Midway in June 1942. During the battle, which was fought nearly exclusively with naval aircraft, the U.S. Navy destroyed most of Japan’s aircraft carrier capacity and effectively eliminated the threat of further Japanese invasion in the Pacific. The Navy continued to operate on Midway in some capacity until 1993. Midway was designated as the Battle of Midway National Memorial in 2000.

Midway is closed to public visitation, with the U.S. government allowing only activities that directly support airfield operations and conservation management of the refuge and memorial and the islands’ monuments.

BSU Biology Lecture Series

Bemidji State started its Biology Lecture Series with support from Sanford Health Bemidji to provide BSU students interested in health care careers.

“This gives our students an opportunity to hear directly from professionals in our community about the career options available to them,” said Dr. Mark Wallert, associate director of biology and director of the lecture series.

The series has since expanded to include biology graduate faculty and students. Through these presentations, undergraduate students can experience the research work being done at BSU and explore potential future opportunities to participate in that work.


Aug. 29 — 6 p.m. — Dr. Elizabeth Rave, professor of biology at Bemidji State University, presents “The Magic of Midway Atoll,” Bemidji State University Biology Lecture Series. Location: Sattgast Hall 208, BSU campus. Admission: free. Information: Department of Biology, (218) 755-2920.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Rave, professor of biology, Bemidji State University; (218) 755-2785,