By Carl Safina
Far out in the center of the cobalt pacific, hundreds of miles from the next atoll—about as far from a continent as it’s possible to get—Laysan Island seems like the morning of the world, a place you and I aren’t meant to see. The atoll measures roughly two by three miles; you can walk around it in a couple of hours, and as you do you’ll find a million screaming Sooty Terns swirling overhead like a living tornado. You hear, smell, and feel the heat of life at full burn.
Tiny and remote, Laysan is one speck in a small, far-flung chain. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with less than 0.1 percent of the state’s land area, provide breeding grounds for 90 percent of its seabirds, about 6 million of them, representing some 20 species. In addition to the terns, there are frigatebirds, noddies, tropicbirds, and Bonin Petrels, not to mention 600,000 breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross and 60,000 pairs of Black-footed Albatross—virtually the entire world populations.