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Various seeds undergo cleaning and processing at the seed laboratory on Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, Guam, April 19, 2022. The laboratory is a part of the nursery on base that is home to native plants and trees found on Guam. The overall end goal of the nursery is to rebuild populations of numerous species while also reintroducing native plants into the base’s two forest enhancement sites.

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Rubin Tan

The cycad recovery mission at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz

23 May 2022 | Gunnery Sgt. Rubin Tan Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz

Thriving in both tropical and subtropical regions, the cycad reaches out from the earth with a stout and woody trunk, topped with a crown of large-stiff evergreen and pinnate leaves. The primitive palm like plant has been on our planet for more than 280 million years.

These ancient plants were found on Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz during an ecological study that was conducted prior to the construction of the multipurpose machine gun range. The cycas micronesia, a once abundant tree, is now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Committed to the protection of plants such as the cycads, animals, and historical and cultural sites on Guam, MCB Camp Blaz has enacted various initiatives and worked with outside organizations to aid in the study and preservation of the local ecology. Specifically, the site for the ranges were found to be on a disturbed limestone forest, a unique ecosystem in which plants and animals exist.

“We are not only enhancing the forest, but also increasing the population of certain species that wouldn’t have otherwise had a chance due to the ungulates." Sheeka Tareyama, a natural resources specialist

Before any military construction project begins, a full environmental survey is conducted by the base to identify all plant and animal species to ensure a responsible military buildup process. Led by Guam’s Department of Agriculture, various plant species and their habitats have also been listed as part of conservation measures for Guam.

“The survey is done to see what is out there and if endangered species are present, while also seeing if they can be avoided,” said Sheeka Tareyama, the natural resources specialist for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Marianas at MCB Camp Blaz. “If they cannot be avoided, we determine what mitigations we need to do to ensure their survival.”

Mitigation techniques for cycads include propagation of seeds, uprooting and transplantation, and stem salvage, which involves removing parts of the cycad which can be later transplanted. Translocated plants can be found on either of MCB Camp Blaz’s two, 500-acre forest enhancement sites.

If translocation is not possible, healthy plant material and seeds are then salvaged and housed in a separate 18,000 square-foot native plant nursery on the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station at MCB Camp Blaz. These plants will then be nursed with the help from members from HDR Incorporated and the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands until the plant can be transplanted into the forest enhancement site.

“We actually were able to use all methods of salvage for the cycads, so we collected a whole bunch of seeds that are being monitored, and whenever one germinates, they are then planted into a pot until it is ready to be transplanted into the forest,” said Tareyama.

The native plant nursery does not just house endangered plants and trees, but other protected plants and trees native to Guam. For example, there are approximately a thousand tabernaemontana rotensis, a threatened tree, currently being propagated and awaiting transplantation into the forest enhancement site.

Helping The Environment Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Rubin Tan
A cycas micronesica being propagated from a seed is shown at the native plant nursery on Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, Guam, April 19, 2022. The overall end goal of the nursery is to rebuild populations of numerous species while also reintroducing native plants into the base’s two forest enhancement sites. Cycas micronesica is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“We understand that the ranges and the Marine Corps relocation will happen, so our job is to completely understand what we can do to ensure we are protecting the resources as much as possible,” said Tareyama.

Scientists from Rice University and the University of Guam conducted a seed-dispersal study in 2013 and have found that since the extinction of Guam’s native bird species in the late 1940s, forests on the island have experienced thinning and the structure of Guam’s forests has changed due to small seeds no longer being dispersed by native birds.

In May 2022, MCB Camp Blaz plans on conducting an out-planting project of native as well as threatened and endangered plant species at a scale that has not been done on Guam before.

“We are not only enhancing the forest, but also increasing the population of certain species that wouldn’t have otherwise had a chance due to the ungulates,” explained Tareyama. Ungulates are hooved animals present on Guam that were introduced to the island during the 17th century while the island was colonized by Spain.

MCB Camp Blaz is currently under construction and is named after the late Brig. Gen. Vicente “Ben” Thomas Garrido Blaz, the first CHamoru Marine to attain the rank of general officer. The base will play an essential role in strengthening the Department of Defense’s ability to deter and defend while securing a Marine Corps posture in the Indo-Pacific region that is geographically distributed and operationally resilient.

April 22, 2022, marked this year’s Earth Day with the theme, invest in our planet. Since 1970 Earth Day has been celebrated in the United States with the mission to raise environmental consciousness and mobilize individuals to take action in protecting the planet.