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Back Letter to the Editor The invasion of Guåhan

The invasion of Guåhan

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THE AGA, or Mariana Crow, is native to Guåhan and other islands in the Chamoru archipelago. The small black crow was common up to the 1960s.

The Pacific islands were once home to over 400 native bird species. Now, the Pacific houses a quarter of the world's threatened species.

The Aga was listed as endangered in 1979, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey estimated that less than 400 crows remained in 1981.In the early ‘90s, the Marianas Archipelago Rescue and Survey team captured 10 crows and shipped them to U.S. zoos.

This past summer, the last female Aga on Guåhan died. She was named Mochong and lived in the Department of Agriculture compound.

She died of kidney failure.

Ninety percent of all species that have become extinct in the past 200 years have been island birds. Invasive species caused 90 percent of these extinctions. We know the story: Brown tree snakes invaded Guåhan as stowaways on U.S. naval cargo ships during and after World War II. By 1968, the snakes had colonized the entire island; their population reached a density of 13,000 per square mile.

The snakes devoured all of Guåhan’s native seabirds and nearly all native jungle birds. Without birds, seeds will not spread and take root.

Without birds, no birdsong.

Many other terrestrial invasive species have harmed Guåhan, such as the Asian cycad scale, the coconut rhinoceros beetle, and fire ants.

Additionally, numerous aquatic invasive species occupy Apra Harbor and the waters around Guåhan.

Guåhan's native inhabitants are surrounded, and the military buildup will increase the presence and dispersal pathways of other invasive species.

An estimated 19,000 military personnel and 20,000 of their dependents, along with numerous overseas business people and 20,000 contract workers, are being introduced to Guåhan. Add this to the 14,000 military personnel already on-island, and that’s a combined total of 73,000 – outnumbering the entire Chamoru population on Guåhan, which is roughly 63,000.

The established legal definition of an "invasive species" is a species non-native to a particular environment and whose introduction causes harm to the native ecosystem.

Since World War II, more than 80 contaminated military dumpsites were created on Guåhan – most of which are still not cleaned up. Military toxic waste choked the breath out of the largest barrier reef system of Guåhan, poisoning fish and fishing grounds.

Guåhan was not only "downwind" from U.S. nuclear testing in the 1970s, but the military also used our home as a decontamination site, resulting in massive radiation exposure. High incidences of various kinds of cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases plague the Chamoru people. Toxic chemicals snake through our bloodstream.

Like the Aga on Guåhan, Chamorus are disappearing. Diseases have killed most of our elders; only 5 percent of the island are over the age of 65. Young Chamorus are joining the military and dying in America’s wars at alarming rates.

In 2005, four of the U.S. Army’s top 12 recruitment producers were based on Guåhan. In 2007, Guåhan ranked no. 1 for recruiting success in the Army National Guard’s assessment. In the current wars on terror, our killed-in-action rate is five times the national average. Guåhan is a "recruiters' paradise."

In terms of population, Chamorus constituted 45 percent of Guåhan’s population in 1980; in 1990, 43 percent; in 2000, 37 percent.

History repeats itself: more invasive species, fewer native birds.

The Guam Invasive Species Council (GISC), created by Public Law 31-43 this past summer, held their first meeting around the same time that Mochong died.

Will the GISC protect us?


Craig Santos Perez,
Honolulu, Hawaii

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