|"By taking the land approach, it’s been easier to help people understand why the corals are important."|
NOAA Coral Reef Management Fellow
Hunters on the Island of Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas often burn the Talakhaya area forest to spur the growth of new vegetation that attracts sambar deer. Not only are these hunters unknowingly destroying the deer's habitat, but the resulting soil erosion is also causing algae growth that is smothering nearshore corals and driving away fish.
Ten agencies on the island have joined forces to replant the habitat and create a community education and outreach program. The effort has resulted in the largest single planting event in the island's history and a campaign message that "Real Hunters Don't Burn."
"People are now beginning to understand the connection between the land and the sea," says Lihla Noori, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coral reef management fellow and coordinator of the Talakhaya Project. "By taking the land approach, it's been easier to help people understand why the corals are important."
For a number of years, the Talakhaya watershed has been listed as a critical area, but efforts to address the problems were fragmented. In 2005, the commonwealth received a three-year NOAA coral reef grant to focus on the area.
Noori came on island in 2006 with the task of helping to coordinate the many agencies involved.
The soil in the area is in such poor condition, Noori says, that the Department of Lands and Natural Resources first conducted studies to see which plant species would best survive. In September 2006, a group of almost 200 students from both the Rota junior and senior high schools helped plant 2,500 seedlings.
This effort was "moderately successful," says Noori. The rugged mountain terrain made it clear that relying on students was untenable, and the growth of some seedlings was slower than had been hoped.
The collaborative adjusted the project plan and came back in June 2007 with 35 community volunteers who worked nearly full time for three weeks planting and fertilizing over 19,000 grass and tree seedlings. The planting teams recorded abundance and location of the seedlings using handheld Global Positioning System units.
Noori notes that getting to the work site required a 40-minute drive in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, followed by a 40-minute hike carrying all the gear that was needed.
"Even with teamwork and adequate resources, we were constantly struggling to overcome different trials and tribulations along the journey," notes James Manglona, head forester for the Department of Lands and Natural Resources.
The results of the planting, however, "have been promising" because they are seeing the seedlings spreading and connecting, he says.
The Division of Environmental Quality is conducting baseline streambed and shoreline water quality monitoring to document the potential change in the watershed's nonpoint runoff.
Outreach efforts also were aided by the community volunteers, who helped spread the word about the project and why it was being done, Noori says. "Real Hunters Don't Burn" bumper stickers are now popular, as are educational displays presented at public events.
Noting that there is still more planting and outreach that needs to be done, Noori says she considers this phase of the project a success "because of the partnerships and community support."
"This was not an effort that could be done by one agency," she says. "It had to be done with multiple partners. That is where the success lies."
For more information on the Talakhaya Project, contact Lihla Noori at (670) 532-3102, or email@example.com.