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Marine Corps Base Hawaii

"Supporting Readiness and Global Projection"

Combat Suppport Company aids environment: Marines, AAVs churn in mud to clear invasive weeds

By Sgt. Alexis R. Mulero | Marine Corps Base Hawaii | January 09, 2003

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii -- Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, conducted its annual amphibious assault vehicle assistance to improve the endangered bird habitat at the Nu'upia Ponds Wildlife Management Area Jan. 8 and 9.For 21 years, the Marines have been enhancing homeland security for the Hawaiian stilts on base with the annual "Mud Ops" program.This year's exercise used four AAVs and a crew of 17 Marines from Combat Support Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, to plow up invasive plant species that would otherwise overrun the ponds and crowd out the endangered birds from their homes."What took place here was some much needed assistance from the Marines and their Amphibious Assault Vehicles in the combat against invasive species," said Dr. Diane C. Drigot, senior natural resource management specialist for MCB Hawaii's Environmental Protection and Compliance Department. The best place for birds to nest is on top of mudflat mounds in wetlands such as Nu'upia Pond Wildlife Management Area, according to Drigot, but an abundance of invasive plants there, such as mangrove and pickleweed, literally crowd the birds out of their nesting habitat.It was first noticed in the 1970s that stilt were following the 26-ton tracked AAVs as they traveled along the northern shoreline of Nu'upia Ponds on their daily transit to the ocean at Kailua Bay. This six-ounce bird was attempting to nest on the mounds of mud along the watery trail left behind by the AAVs on their travel routes. However, by establishing nest sites along a busy travel corridor, the birds and their nests were placed in jeopardy, explained Drigot. "The Marines and biologists put their heads together and figured out a way to turn this into a 'swords into plowshares' win-win opportunity, rather than a hindrance to military training and a hazard to the birds survival," said Drigot. The Marines moved their daily transit path to the ocean northward so that the habitat was not disturbed on a daily basis. The natural resources staff calls upon the AAV unit to deliberately perform specific "checkerboard pattern" plow-like maneuvers in the mudflats, once a year, prior to nesting season, which peaks late March through September. "If not plowed back every year with the AAVs' assist, the pickle weed mass would grow so thick that the stilt and the other waterbird species that use the Nu'upia mudflats would have no maneuver room or available mudflats for bird foraging and nesting," said Drigot. "We started this tradition in 1982 and have continued ever since," she added. "Over the years, we have commissioned various studies by monitoring scientists who have confirmed our observation that there is a synergistic, win-win relationship evolved now between the 26-ton AAV "hog" and this six-ounce bird."In addition to this operation being helpful to the local ponds, it also serves as resourceful training for the Marines who receive the opportunity to "break out of the box" of controlled training elsewhere in Hawaii."This was a great opportunity for our junior Marines to manipulate this type of terrain while also helping out the environment," said Staff Sgt. David Hickman, section leader, AAV platoon, CSC.

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