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Andersen protects endangered species, sets conservation standard

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Whitney Tucker
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
For centuries, the green sea turtle played an intricate historic role in Chamorro culture and diet. The consumption of turtle meat was reserved for times of ceremonial significance, shells were used to craft traditional jewelry and bones were made into tools. Today, after years of poaching and illegal harvesting, this symbolic animal is on the brink of extinction.

Well known in the Pacific for its humanitarian stewardship, Andersen Air Force Base is leading the way in endangered species conservation. The Marine Patrol Conservation Volunteer Program is among the organizations here identifying threats and taking action before those threats adversely impact wildlife.

"Predators for turtle eggs and hatchlings on the shore are rodents, monitor lizards, birds, wild pigs, deer, stray cats and dogs," said Ray Stiers, 36th Wing Outdoor Recreation manager. "Litter on the shore can also be a threat as it gets worked into the nest by the female as she covers the nest."

After the formation of the Marine Patrol in 2007, members partnered with the Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources to combat these occurrences and ensure turtles and their hatchlings have the best possible chance for survival.

"We have several methods for guaranteeing the nesting environment is conducive to a successful hatching," said Shawn Wusstig, DAWR Guam Sea Turtle program coordinator. "We conduct feral animal control, apply nest protection with four-by-four foot mesh wire grids, perform beach clean ups to remove debris and assist in collecting data to assess the success and mortality rates of the green sea turtle on Guam."

In addition to traditional conservation methods, when studies proved the use of certain lighting could deter nesting females, Team Andersen members made the decision to go the extra mile.

"It turns out the lights we were using discouraged mothers from laying their eggs in the Tarague Basin," Mr. Stiers said. "We learned that light-emitting diode, or LED, lights have little to no effect on nesting females and hatchlings. Soon after, we began to swap the lights out."

In 2011 alone, the Tarague Basin has seen a 30 percent increase in verified turtle nests. According to Mr. Wusstig, this is a very significant milestone and testament to the partnership and long term conservation efforts between Andersen and Guam's DAWR.

"It takes a turtle between 25 and 30 years to reach breeding age," he said. "This years' increase in hatchlings is proof that the efforts beginning more than a quarter century ago really made a difference. Andersen is one of the leaders in terms of showing true conservation and this year we are reaping the benefits of that dedication. The success is in the numbers; they are giving these animals a chance to recover."

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