Tens of Thousands of Seabirds Saved From Needless Lead Poisoning

Following a threat to sue by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to finally clean up the lead paint from a defunct military base on Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. The lead paint kills at least 10,000 threatened Laysan albatross chicks every year. Lead on the island also threatens endangered Laysan ducks and highly endangered short-tailed albatross.

“Midway Atoll provides unparalleled nesting habitat for albatross, which fly thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean in search of food and return to the atoll to nest each year. Without this cleanup, their amazing efforts would continue to be wasted as chicks die of lead poisoning,” said Shaye Wolf, a Center biologist.

The settlement agreement requires completion of the cleanup in 2017 and allows the Center or third parties potential access to test for contaminants in the Laysan duck. Midway Atoll was used for many decades as a U.S. military base and still has several sources of pollution. The cleanup required by the settlement applies to existing military buildings that shed toxic, lead-based paint chips that are then eaten by albatross chicks and potentially other seabirds.

“The service’s agreement to finally clean up this dangerous lead-based paint is an important step toward returning this tiny island to its rightful role as a haven, not a deadly trap, for wildlife,” said Wolf.

Scientists estimate that lead poisoning kills up to 10,000 chicks per year on Midway, affecting the long-term survival of the Laysan albatross.

Many poisoned chicks develop nervous-system damage called “droopwing” that leaves them unable to lift their wings, which drag on the ground and become susceptible to open sores and fractures, leading to slow and painful death.

Laysan albatross chick with droopwing from lead poisoning on Midway Atoll

Laysan albatross chick with droopwing from lead poisoning on Midway Atoll


Protecting albatross chicks from poisoning is especially important now. The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan killed an estimated 110,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks — about 22 percent of the year’s young — at Midway Atoll, where more than two-thirds of the world’s Laysan albatross nest. At least 2,000 adults were also killed by the tsunami that washed over Midway’s three low-lying islands. The albatross are also threatened in the United States and internationally by long-line fisheries and accelerating sea-level rise.

Midway Atoll may also become important nesting habitat for the highly endangered short-tailed albatross. The first confirmed hatching of a short-tailed albatross chick in the United States occurred in January 2011 on Midway Atoll, and the breeding pair that raised it returned to hatch another chick in 2012.

If you’re reading this, take a few minutes to sign the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to the EPA to ban lead hunting ammunition which leaves 3,000 tons of lead in the environment every year and kills millions of endangered birds annually.

A petition to stop the NRA’s lead-poisoning legislation also needs your support. You can find photos and video of lead-poisoned Laysan albatross chicks with droopwing here.

Related Stories:
95% of Arizona Condors Poisoned By Lead

Lawsuit Launched To Save California Condors

It’s Time to End Wildlife Poisoning From Lead Hunting Ammunition

Photos courtesy of Myra Finkelstein


Ruth R.
Ruth R5 years ago

Thank You to the People who did the good work!. The Way to Go!

Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

Wonderful news, hope the clean-up doesn't take 100 years!

deb s.
deb s5 years ago

we are responsible we need to do all we can to preserve all wildlife and environment we are only passing thru and need to take care of where we live and the animals that were here before us So i am so glad to hear we are winning so of the fights and have a long way to go. Man can't get out of his own way and step up to think of GOD'S creatures are very important and mankind's ways are destructive

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright5 years ago

Humans are, by far, the worst species on this planet. BAR NONE...................

Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

There is no place safe from humans

Waheeda Smith
Waheeda E5 years ago

Both petitions signed.

We definitely need to be aware of what we do to our environment - our actions are far-reaching.

Jennifer C.
Jennifer C5 years ago

I lived on Midway Island for a year and a half working for the Fish and Wildlife Service. I remember the myriad of problems we dealt with daily to try and save the island and all it's inhabitants. I remember spending my evenings pulling weeds, cleaning beaches of plastic debris that had floated ashore, and picking up paint chips around the old buildings. I like to think that I saved as many birds lives as I could while I was there. But each chick with droop wing, each chick that slowly starved with a stomach full of cigarette lighters would break my heart. Midway need LOTS of repair and there just isn't money for little islands in the middle of the ocean that most people haven't heard of. Please do everything you can where you live, to help the planet. We are all connected. What you throw away in Japan or Oregon, can find its way to Midway.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch5 years ago

Why do we NEED to tell/make agencys clean up the messes they cause/create? Isn't it plain to see? You make a mess, clean it up! That is what we all have been taught from a very early age, at home, so why should it be any different out in the world?


Carrie Anne Brown

both signed thanks for sharing :)

Cindy B.
Cindy B5 years ago

There is the loss of the birds -- that's terrible enough. But then there's the untold hours, days, weeks of pain and suffering as the poor things die slowly and horribly from the lead poisoning. And the whole time, nobly attempting to carry out the activities of daily life and survival, and never understanding why they are increasingly unable....

Just makes a person want to cry, doesn't it.

But now this good news arrives! I pray the cleanup will be successful. Thank you.