CAMP BLAZ, Guam --
Guam experienced torrential winds and rain as the eye wall of Typhoon Mawar passed through the area, May 24. The Category 4 storm left the Northern Plateau’s limestone forests a tangled mess of overturned trees and broken branches.
The site of the island’s last mature Serianthes nelsonii tree on Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, was not left untouched by Mother Nature. While the tree’s trunk remains rooted, the main boughs broke away leaving a branchless and leafless wood pillar. However, just below what was recently the S. nelsonii’s canopy, multiple seedlings are growing, hungry for the new-found sunlight.
As soon as the storm passed and travel was safe, MCB Camp Blaz’s environmental and natural resource experts alongside partner agencies were assessing the storm’s impact to their ongoing conservation efforts aboard the installation. One of those sites is home to the mature S. nelsonii.
“What’s important now is the natural succession of the seedlings and that we take care of the next generation.” Lauren Gutierrez, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Marianas supervisory conservation specialist supporting MCB Camp Blaz
The tree is not dead, but recovery is uncertain, according to natural resource specialists there . However, by leaving seeds behind, the mature S. nelsonii, has been preparing for its eventual decline.
“The reason why trees provide seeds each year is to protect itself—its genetics, after events like typhoons,” said Lauren Gutierrez, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Marianas supervisory conservation specialist supporting MCB Camp Blaz. “What’s important now is the natural succession of the seedlings and that we take care of the next generation.”
This tree species requires direct sunlight to grow, meaning that the mature S. nelsonii’s leafy canopy blocked the essential sunlight needed for the seedlings to thrive. Over the years, a team of botanists and natural resource specialists from across the island have been collecting seeds from the site and maintaining a six-foot sapling beneath the parent tree. The six-foot sapling will continue to be monitored and maintained to stand in its parent’s wake.
“We have more than 3,000 seeds in storage and have been able to grow seedlings in the nursery quite well,” said Mario Martinez, a NAVFAC Marianas natural resource specialist. “The University of Guam’s Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program has been a great cooperator and spends a lot of time monitoring and maintaining the plants. There are so many pests that affect the Serianthes so out plantings require a lot of attention. These aren’t trees we can just plant and walk away from.”
Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Rubin J. Tan
Lauren Gutierrez, a supervisory conservation specialist supporting Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz with Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Marianas, collects seeds from a mature Serianthes Nelsonii during a site assessment at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz following typhoon Mawar on June 7, 2023. A Combined Joint Task Force led by U.S. Army Pacific and Task Force West are the DoD representatives supporting FEMA and the governments of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as we continue recovery efforts in the wake of Typhoon Mawar. Commander Task Force West Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, and all military installation commanding officers in Guam are diligently working to restore steady state to the bases, and dedicate resources to all FEMA mission assignments. Typhoon Mawar moved through the area as a Category 4 storm on May 24, bringing hurricane-force winds, heavy rain and high seas marking the strongest storm to affect the island since Typhoon Pongsona in 2002.
Two S. nelsonii survived the storm at the University of Guam. These trees were germinated in June 2020 using seeds collected from the mature tree on Camp Blaz. Currently, both trees stand at about 14 feet tall and have trunks that measure more than 2 inches in diameter at the base. The university also has more than 50 smaller saplings that are to be out planted later this year.
Additionally, MCB Camp Blaz cooperates with the Micronesia Conservation Coalition (MCC) which has propagated 100 seedlings from the mature S. nelsonii. Officials from the MCC said they plan to outplant the seedlings in the forest enhancement area on MCB Camp Blaz later this year.
Continued research and technical assistance from the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit and the University of Guam’s Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program will be necessary to ensure the mature S. nelsonii and the seedlings remain protected from invasive insect pests and pig and deer predation.
MCB Camp Blaz natural resource specialists alongside partner agencies will continue their efforts in protecting the S. nelsonii, whether it be through rehabilitating the mature tree or encouraging and protecting the next generation of seedlings.