Lead Paint and Albatrosses on Midway Atoll

A Laysan Albatross chick on Midway NWR paralysed due to ingestion of lead paint

A Laysan Albatross chick on Midway NWR paralysed due to ingestion of lead paint


The Challenge

The world's largest colony of Laysan Albatrosses breeds on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, where hundreds of thousands come ashore each year to breed. This remarkable spectacle has become marred in recent years by poisoned birds dying of starvation and dehydration. Lead-based paint is peeling from more than 90 aging buildings, and eaten by curious albatross chicks. The chicks soon develop a condition known as droopwing, whereby they are unable to lift their developing wings off the ground. As many as 10,000 chicks are dying this way each year.


ABC Conservation Framework

Efforts to save the Laysan Albatross from lead posinong on Midway species comes under Safeguarding the Rarest and Eliminating Threats within ABC's Conservation Framework
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Primary Birds Impacted

Laysan Albatross



The Fish and Wildlife Service initially experimented with trying to prevent the chicks from eating the paint by encasing the lower parts of the buildings in burlap and fencing off areas. However, this proved ineffective, because the birds readily crossed the barriers.


The only viable solution appears to be removal of the paint, the total cost of which, including sifting of sand around the buildings to remove fallen paint chips, is $5.6 million. Despite this seemingly high price tag, it equates to just $56 for every bird saved over the next ten years.

ABC Results

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ABC has engaged other members of the Bird Conservation Alliance and the public in a campaign to secure this funding. ABC is pressuring the federal government to honor its commitment to the recently dedicated Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, including pushing for appropriations for lead paint removal and remediation of other factors impacting the survival of Midway's albatrosses, such as invasive plant species..

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In 2005, cleanup began with the remediation of 24 buildings at a cost of $841,000.

In August 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was launching a new, $1.4 million lead paint clean-up effort to develop and evaluate lead paint removal alternatives, and implement appropriate action by July 2011.


What Next?

What Next Button ABC will continue to push regulators to appropriate funds for this urgent cleanup effort until all sources of lead paint have been removed and the future of the albatross colony is assured.

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