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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Eco-tourism should continue at Midway

It is not entirely clear what has caused a falling out between the private company that provides tourism services on Midway Atoll and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has jurisdiction over the remote islets some 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu.

But it would be a shame if that dispute ends the opportunity for people to visit this unique historical and ecological treasure.

Preservation of the natural habitat and the wildlife that thrives on Midway is the first priority of the Fish and Wildlife Service. That is as it should be.

But within that mandate, there should be a way to maintain a tourist opportunity at Midway, where visitors can see historic sites as well as enjoy a close-up exposure to a large variety of wildlife.

The company that has been operating visitor services on Midway, Midway Phoenix Corp., said it is pulling out because it cannot make money under the strict conservation rules imposed by Fish and Wildlife.

The original idea to have commercial "ecotourism" at Midway was a unique solution to a difficult problem. The income earned from the tourism would help the government defray the costs of maintaining this remote location. It ceased being an active Navy base in the mid-1990s.

If the restrictions on activity at Midway make it impossible to operate a tourism operation at a profit, then the federal government should consider subsidizing the operation. The other option is no tourism, no income and an increased burden on the taxpayer as well as a lost opportunity for generations to come.