MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, HI, UNITED STATES
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Marines of Amphibious Assault Vehicle platoon, Combat Assault Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, partnered with members of the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department during the 30th annual Mud Operations, here, Feb. 28 trough March 1.
Mud Operations is an environmental and training exercise that prepares the 517-acre Nuupia Ponds Wildlife Management Area, around Marine Corps Base Hawaii, for the breeding season of a protected bird species, the native Hawaiian stilt, between the months of March and September.
“When we started doing this as an annual routine, we weren’t doing it in some areas and the pickleweed was [waist] high,” said Diane Drigot, senior natural resource management specialist, Environmental Compliance and Protection Department. “When [the AAVs] began to plow through it, the birds [spread out] so they [could] nest and feed in a habitat that [was previously unused] because of too many weeds.”
The non-native pickleweed prevents the stilts from nesting in the Nuupia ponds. Mud Operations provides a unique opportunity where AAVs are used to cultivate the soil in a checkerboard pattern, so the birds can nest. Mud Ops additionally provides training for the Marines participating.
“We get to do this once a year and it’s pretty much off-road training,” said Staff Sgt. David Selberg, AAV section leader, CAC, and a Phoenix native. “This is great training because it prepares us for hurricane recovery. We have to deal with the rain, water and mud, and it tests us on how fast we can get our vehicles unstuck. It’s a great opportunity, the Marines love doing it, and it shows the capabilities of the AAV,” he added.
As the AAVs plowed their way through the mud, water from the pond moved in to form moats that provide the birds protection from avian predators. Also, the recently turned-over soil exposes several food sources, such as insects and grubs, which the stilts can eat.
“[By working with the Marines], we’ve fulfilled a combat readiness objective and conservation,” Drigot said. “This is a unique relationship and opportunity because by disturbing the environment, we’re helping the birds.”
Drigot said because of Mud Operations, conservation efforts have increased the stilt bird population around the Nuupia Ponds and wetlands bordering MCB Hawaii, as well the rise of other bird species in the same area. Drigot also encourages people to keep their pets out of the protected areas.
“The overall goal is to keep the pickleweed from covering the wetlands again,” Drigot said, about the intended result of the conservation effort. “As long as there are Marines and amphibious vehicles here, we hope to continue [Mud Ops] into the future because no one has invented an agent that targets and kills just the pickleweed. [Without] that and [without] the amphibious vehicles, we would be doing it by hand. So, we’re glad to have the Marines here and that these vehicles are doing a mission besides their main one.”
||MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, HI, US
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