In 2007, the US Department of Defense announced that 4,000 marines stationed in Okinawa, Japan would be relocated to Guam, a process requiring considerable construction, air and sea traffic, and infrastructure upgrades. In response, the Micronesia Chief Executives and the Regional Invasive Species Council (RISC) raised special concerns about the movement of invasive plant and animal species with the build-up and relocation. Species that are not naturally found in a place, and that have negative biological, economic, social, or cultural impacts, are known as “invasive” and pose a longstanding threat in a region that relies on inter-island and international interchange. They are often transported unintentionally from place to place, such as insects that make their way to an island in a shipment of soil. Other species are brought intentionally – as pets, for agricultural crops, or simply for ornamental decoration. To better prepare for the military relocation, the RISC partnered with representatives from various countries at the federal, national, territory, and commonwealth levels, as well as industry and NGOs to prepare the first Regional Biosecurity Plan (RBP) for Micronesia and Hawaiʻi, which was released in 2015. Funded and supported by the US Navy, the comprehensive plan consists of four volumes and covers Hawaiʻi, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
A biosecurity plan consists of inspections, facilities, and protocols for pre-border (before a shipment or a group of passengers departs), at the border (upon arrival to the new location), and post-border (after cargo and passengers have reached their destination). The RBP for Micronesia and Hawaiʻi also contains detailed risk assessments for marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems, which are critical to regional economies and sustainable livelihoods.
Left: Adult coconut rhinoceros beetle. Right: Coconut rhinoceros beetle damage to palm trees. Images courtesy of the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture.
The members of each jurisdiction covered in the RBP agreed that the plan should be updated every 3 years, and the RISC initiated the first update process this November in Guam. Pacific RISA PI Laura Brewington facilitated the week-long update meeting, during which time the original recommendations and action items were identified, accomplishments and progress to-date were documented, and new concerns were raised. One of the key recommendations for the update is to develop an action plan for invasive species under climate change. As regions of the Pacific warm, precipitation patterns shift, and sea levels rise, invasive species ranges are expected to change as well. For example, outbreaks of the invasive coconut rhinoceros beetle (pictured above) have been reported on Guam and Palau after extreme storm events. High winds damage the palm trees the beetles use as a food source and breeding grounds, and sea level rise weakens palm trees along the coast, making them more vulnerable to predation by the beetle. Dr. Brewington will be working with the RISC members and others to prepare the climate change language for the RBP update, which will be finalized and released in mid-2018.