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Guam: Military Development Threatens Reefs

Provided by Michael Gawel, Guam Environmental Protection Agency

<p>Photo credit: Laurie Raymundo</p>

Photo credit: Laurie Raymundo

The impact of coastal development on coral reefs is not limited to tourist resorts and growing coastal populations. Military expansion is another potentially damaging form of development. Naval bases require all of the infrastructure of small cities, along with deep berths to accommodate large naval vessels, hazardous materials, and extensive communications and security infrastructure. Moreover, construction of bases is usually intense, thus completely transforming a landscape in a short amount of time.

The United States is in the midst of planning several military development projects budgeted at well over US $10 billion on the small South Pacific island of Guam. These include a new Marine Corps base and airfield, a new Army base, new docking facilities for nuclear aircraft carriers, and expansion of existing Navy and Air Force facilities. Guam, a U.S. territory, is the largest and most populous island in Micronesia, with 173,500 residents in 2007.1 Guam supports more than 100 sq km of fringing, patch, and barrier reefs that encircle the island, as well as over 100 sq km of coral on offshore banks.2 These reefs are home to more than 400 species of corals2 and 1,000 species of fish.3

<p>Photo credit: David Burdick</p>

Photo credit: David Burdick

Plans for the new military facilities were announced in 2006, with construction slated to begin in 2010, and a deadline for completion in 2014. However, the plans for development have met with many complications. The relocation of military personnel, families, and associated workers could add up to 80,000 new residents to the island within the next 10 years, which would amount to a 45-percent increase over the current population.4 The consequences of such growth would put a substantial strain on an already taxed support infrastructure in terms of water supply, sewage treatment, electricity, and roadways.5 The surge in wastewater discharge to coastal waters, runoff from construction activities, and increased population could have damaging consequences for the nearshore reefs if proper wastewater treatment systems and erosion-control techniques are not put in place.

The most immediate and direct impact on corals, however, is the plan to dredge a deep-water port for a nuclear aircraft carrier in Apra Harbor, which would require removing nearly 300,000 square meters of coral reef habitat. In February 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rated the military’s development plans as “Environmentally Unsatisfactory” and suggested revising the plans to increase capacity for existing water and wastewater treatment systems and to lessen the impact of the proposed port on reefs in Apra Harbor.6 At the time of publication, construction had not started on the new military bases pending a resolution to these issues.

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  1. Burdick, B., et al. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of Guam. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States, 465-509 (2008). ↩︎

  2. Randall, R. H. Annotated Checklist of Hydrozoan and Scleractinian Corals Collected from Guam and Other Mariana Islands. Micronesica 35-36, 121-137 (2003). ↩︎

  3. Myers, R. F. and T. J. Donaldson. The Fishes of the Mariana Islands. Micronesica 35-36, 594-648 (2003). ↩︎

  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Detailed Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Guam and CNMI Military Relocation, February 17, 2010. (2010). ↩︎

  5. Harden, B., "On Guam, Planned Marine Base Raises Anger, Infrastructure Concerns," The Washington Post. (Hagatna, Guam, March 22, 2010). ↩︎

  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Guam and CNMI Military Relocation, November 2009. (February 17, 2010). ↩︎

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