News: Save the fruit bats! Andersen continues conservation effort
Story by Melissa White
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – There’s more than just aircraft flying around the base, and with a mere 3-foot wingspan and fur, they set themselves far apart from the jets occupying the flightline here.
The Mariana fruit bat, which dwells on Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, is currently listed as a threatened species, though it has fluctuated between endangered and threatened in the past. With the help of Team Andersen, the goal for the future of this species’ waxing and waning population is to recover and steadily strengthen.
To reach that goal, members of the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight led an initiative to make Andersen AFB a safer and more desirable location for the bats. One such effort included constructing a habitat management unit on 152 acres of the base, which was completed in December 2012. The second phase of the project started in September 2012 with an estimated completion of December 2014. Upon completion, there will be a grand total of 400 acres for the unit which will be fenced to promote bat colonies while keeping invasive creatures out, such as brown tree snakes, wild pigs and deer.
“[Mariana fruit bats] are highly mobile creatures and they are free to move throughout the region,” said Jeremy Adams, 36th CES Environmental Flight Natural and Cultural Resources and Conservation Program resources specialist. “We’re working to give them a better and more controlled environment by suppressing the brown tree snakes. By doing this, maybe we can show these organisms that our grass is just as green as any other place, and hopefully bring them back to the island.”
Some areas of concern that have affected the species’ livelihood include habitat loss due to human disturbance and development, poaching and illegal consumption, and possible threats from brown tree snakes. The environmental flight surveys and monitors bat movements on the installation while also gauging airfield noise to minimize the base’s impact on the bats and their environment. Adams said part of the project is to plant more fruit trees on base in the future to promote habitat regeneration for the threatened animals.
“Overall, I think we’re moving our conservation and recovery program along in a positive direction,” said Ruben Guieb, 36th CES Environmental Flight Natural and Cultural Resources Conservation Program chief. “The habitat restoration will definitely provide a better home for the Mariana fruit bat and hopefully their dwindling population will bounce back. There is still plenty of hope for the species to recover and for our efforts to contribute to the future of the bats on the base and elsewhere on the island.”
Though Adams said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact population due to tracking conflicts in the past, current estimates leave the total of bats in the double digits for Guam, though the number may reach the thousands throughout other islands in the region. The environmental flight is also looking to have a team of scientists and Mariana fruit bat specialists scientifically monitor, track and quantify the progress of the species later this year.
While Andersen is putting in so much effort to protect these threatened animals, Adams said the bats help the base in return by creating a safer environment. Since the species has declined, there has been a noted increase of trees and plants from wind-dispersed seeds versus fruit and flowering trees dispersed by animals. He said the bats are essential to the growth of those trees which are more fire-resistant than the others, which ultimately would improve the safety of the base. He also said the same effect aids the base’s mission.
“We’re promoting good environmental stewardship, but at the same time these bats also help us with our mission,” Adams said. “Some of the units here use the jungle for their training, but if you want jungle to train in then you need animals like the bats to eat fruit and nuts and spread the seeds so more plants and trees grow.”