Thriving in tropical and subtropical regions, the cycad emerges from the ground with a sturdy, woody trunk, topped with a crown of large, evergreen, pinnate leaves. The primitive palm-like plant has been present on our planet for more than 280 million years.
These ancient plants were discovered at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz during an ecological survey conducted prior to the construction of the General Purpose Machine Gun line. 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 cycads, animals, and Guam’s historical and cultural sites, MCB Camp Blaz has established various initiatives and worked with outside organizations to assist in the study and preservation of the local ecology. Specifically, the ranges site turned out to be on a disturbed limestone forest, a unique ecosystem in which plants and animals exist.
“We are not only improving the forest, but we are also increasing the population of certain species that otherwise would not have had a chance because of the ungulates.” Sheeka Tareyama, Natural Resources Specialist
Prior to the start of any military construction project, a comprehensive environmental survey is conducted by the base to identify all plant and animal species to ensure a responsible military construction process. Led by the Guam 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 exists and if endangered species are present, while also checking to see if they can be avoided,” said Sheeka Tareyama, natural resources specialist for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Marianas at MCB Camp Blaz. . “If they cannot be avoided, we determine the mitigation measures we need to take to ensure their survival.”
Mitigation techniques for cycads include seed propagation, uprooting and transplanting, and stem salvage, which involves removing parts of the cycad that can be transplanted later. Transferred plants can be found at either of MCB Camp Blaz’s two 500-acre forest improvement 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 MCB Camp Blaz’s Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station. These plants will then be tended with the assistance of members of HDR Incorporated and the Military Lands Environmental Management Center until the plant can be transplanted into the forest improvement site.
“We were actually able to use all the methods of recovering the cycads, so we collected a whole bunch of seeds which are monitored, and each time a sprout, they are then planted in a pot until they are ready to be transplanted into the forest,” said Tareyama.
The Native Plant Nursery is not only home to endangered plants and trees, but other protected plants and trees native to Guam. For example, there are about a thousand tabernaemontana rotensis, an endangered tree, currently being propagated and awaiting transplanting into the forest improvement site.
Photo taken by Gunnery Sgt. Rubin Tan
A cycas micronesica propagated from seed is pictured at the native plant nursery at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, Guam, April 19, 2022. The overall end goal of the nursery is to rebuild populations of many species while reintroducing native plants to the base’s two forest improvement sites. Cycas micronesica is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“We understand that ranges and relocation of the Marine Corps will take place, so our job is to fully understand what we can do to make sure we’re protecting resources as much as possible,” Tareyama said.
Scientists from Rice University and the University of Guam conducted a seed dispersal study in 2013 and found that since the extinction of Guam’s native bird species in the late 1940s, forests of the island have seen a clearing and that the structure of Guam’s forests has changed due to small seeds that are no longer dispersed by native birds.
In May 2022, MCB Camp Blaz plans to conduct a planting project of native as well as threatened and endangered plant species on a scale that has never been done in Guam before.
“Not only are we improving the forest, but we are also increasing the population of some species that otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance because of the ungulates,” Tareyama explained. Ungulates are hoofed animals found on Guam that were introduced to the island in the 17th century when the island was colonized by Spain.
MCB Camp Blaz is currently under construction and is named after the late Brig. General Vicente “Ben” Thomas Garrido Blaz, the first CHamoru Marine to achieve the rank of general officer. The base will play a critical role in bolstering the Department of Defense’s deterrence and defense capability 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 under the theme, invest in our planet. Since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated in the United States with a mission to raise environmental awareness and mobilize individuals to take action to protect the planet.