By Rita Hess, USAEC ContractorMarch 31, 2018
U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Okinawa includes nine installations that cover more than 988 mostly undeveloped acres on Okinawa Island, Japan. Situated between Taiwan and Japan's mainland, many of those acres are ideal habitat for plants and animals. In fact, USAG Okinawa's current Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan discusses 53 listed plant species and 92 listed animal species.
Managing natural resources can be tricky here. The Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL) Tank Farms that provide bulk fuel products to area Department of Defense agencies are in pristine vegetated areas, and the island sees an average of four typhoons annually.
"The Natural Resource Team works hard to establish and maintain valuable partnerships, which improves the environment for everyone," said LTC Zachary Hohn, Garrison Commander of USAG Okinawa.
Loggerhead sea turtles nest at Torii Beach, a popular recreational area with approximately 90,000 visitors annually, so cleaning the beach and monitoring for the loggerhead during nesting months demonstrates a commitment to the environment.
At Naha Military Port, the team initiated a baseline survey of little terns in fiscal year 2017 and executed a monitoring contract for 2018 and 2019. The Natural Resource Team (NRT) shares information with tenant units at Naha about nest locations and egg sightings. Reciprocally, tenant units contact them when they find nests.
The team ensures that area construction projects work around nesting months by coordinating with the Directorate of Public Works Engineering group, contractors, and the contracting agency. This protects species like the little tern while supporting construction schedules and mission readiness. For example, a fiscal 2017 project was to replace cleats, bitts, and bollards at the small boat basin, which is essential for Army boat operations. The basin is adjacent to preferred nesting areas, but the NRT successfully coordinated planning and staging without affecting the project schedule.
Team members routinely attend Japanese Ministry of Environment meetings to understand and coordinate priorities for invasive species. In previous years, hundreds of tons of water hyacinth and sediment were removed. In 2017, they removed thousands of white-lipped tree frog adults, tadpoles, and egg masses.
The NRT provides excellent coordination, communication, and collaboration among tenants, in-house public works personnel, and local residents. Team outreach includes presentations during local events at elementary schools. For instance, a segment on how oil spills affect wildlife included a hands-on "wildlife rehabilitation center" so students could experience cleaning up wildlife. For Earth Day, the team prepared displays about the area's protected animal species, and the Environmental Division led an installation-wide cleanup. USAG Okinawa received a 2017 Excellence Award for U.S. Forces Japan and Host Nation Coordination.
At USAG Okinawa, the NRT proves that working with Host Nation allies and sister agencies on mutual issues amplifies proper natural resource management efforts to protect conservation assets and improve the environment. With adjacent installations at White Beach, the Navy and the Army communicate about migratory bird surveys and nesting locations, and they share surveys and planning documents.
The Natural Resource Team at USAG Okinawa is a small group doing mighty things. They work steadfastly to ensure that military operations do not affect these protected species and their habitat. The strength of the team lies in their ability to conduct the daily legwork with such a small group and to partner with others to accomplish for the best possible outcome. Indeed, they are rewarded when sea turtle or bird hatchling success rates increase, and cooperative work to remove species that are harmful to indigenous habitats is completed.