UOG’s Sea Grant program and the Center for Island Sustainability (CIS) are collaborating on a project that could potentially improve the health of Guam’s ecosystems.
The Guam Restoration of Watersheds (GROW) Project, aims to develop tools to slow erosion in the badland areas of the island. The project will involve testing different species of savannah plants to see whether or not they will thrive and supplement a badland.
The GROW Project is the brainchild of Austin Shelton, PhD., an associate professor at the UOG Sea Grant and Else Demeulenaere, an associate director of CIS.
Shelton has been conducting research on watershed restoration since he was a graduate student. He had some success with planting trees and using sediment filter socks in Umatac.
“Else and I came up with the idea for the GROW Project because we had a desire to find tools that would [work] more quickly,” Shelton said. “I’m a marine biologist focused on the health of downstream reefs and she’s a botanist, so she knows a lot about the plants [involved] and what they’re used for.”
According to Shelton, different types of mosses, shrubs, and trees will be tested over the next few months.
“After we collect data on all of those, we’ll be able to start pumping them out and testing them in the field,” he said. “Whatever is most effective will be used for propagation and deployment in our watersheds.”
Sea Grant research assistant Lauren Swaddell said one tool has been shown to be successful, and it is not even native.
Swaddell said, “We know of acacia trees. [They] fix nitrogen into the soil and because eroded and burnt areas don’t have as much nutrition, having a nitrogen-fixing plant there is beneficial.”
Acacia trees are also fire-resistant and are known to thrive in a badland.
Although acacia trees have proved to be helpful in restoring a badland, Swaddell said that relying on them could prove to be expensive.
“We want to look into the local resources we can use,” Swaddell said. “We have a lot of native species that are here for a reason.”
The making of a badland
Badlands are plots of land, usually on hills, that lack nutritious topsoil and cannot support vegetation. They are created when mechanisms that expose the soil layer such as erosion, arson, off-roading and animal feeding make it difficult for plants to grow back. They mostly occur in grassland areas and older badlands are much harder to re-vegetate.
Badlands are eroding bare soil areas. When a badland is subject to heavy rain, sediment can flow into a river system and affect water quality or into a bay and damage coral.
Coral animals have a symbiotic relationship with algae that provides 90% of the energy the coral needs through photosynthesis. Without clear water and access to sunlight, receiving food becomes difficult for the coral.
The importance of watersheds
A watershed is the catchment area between the divides of mountains where rainwater collects. Rainwater flows through land and rivers and eventually ends up as discharge on the reefs at the bottom of the watershed. Guam has 14 watersheds and everything that impacts them affects not only the water, but the land.
While the GROW Project is still in its early stages, the members of the project are highly optimistic about it.
“I’m so happy that this project is starting on Guam because we need it,” Swaddell said. “We have some passionate and well-educated people who are a part of the team and we just hopefully we can combat the issue and influence other island areas that are going through the same thing.”