WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Office of Insular Affairs, has awarded a $5 million grant that will be used to protect coral reefs and natural resources, and combat invasive species in the U.S. territories and countries under the Compact of Free Association.
The grant money—totaling $5,192,241—will fund a variety of projects intended to benefit American Samoa, Guam, the CNMI, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.
In the CNMI, the Department of Lands and Natural Resources will get $239,898 to conserve and protect two endangered endemic trees, the Serianthes nelsonii and the Osmoxylon mariannense, and also to protect the endangered endemic herb, Nesogenes rotensis.
The most prominent threats to these plant species are invasive deer and mealybugs. The project proposes to (1) propagate and out-plant the three endangered plants, (2) mitigate pests, (3) provide fencing for protection of new plantings, and (4) control invasive deer.
Separately, the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality will get $124,435 tofund 1) participation and engagement in regional Coral Reef Initiative meetings such as the Coral Reef Task Force, 2) expansion of a coral nursery to accommodate 500-plus coral fragments for eventual out-planting and coral reef restoration, 3) development of a plan to mitigate recent outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns sea-star on Rota and Tinian.
Doug Domenech, the U.S. Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, announced the release of the funding last week at the 42nd annual meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in Palau. Domenech was co-chair of the meeting with Adm. Tim Gallaudet, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The funding provided will help to protect important coral and natural resources and combat invasive species that are threatening the stunning, but fragile eco-systems found across the U.S. territories and in the [FAS],” said Domenech.
“This funding is a great example of the Department of the Interior’s continuing efforts to protect our treasured natural resources, said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “These funds will help combat the continuing threat of invasive species, including the insidious spread of the brown tree snake, and address the damage being done to the world’s most diverse and complex ecosystems, coral reefs.”
The fiscal year 2020 grant funding is divided among the following:
Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources Grants for fiscal year 2020: $2,267,262
Nova Southeastern University National Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program: $200,000 provides continuing support for a Coral Fellow in each of the following territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Coral Fellow program has provided needed capacity in the territories for both coral reef conservation and invasive species management.
American Samoa Office of the Governor: $239,923 will fund a program to remove large populations of the African tulip (Spathodea campanulate) and the Panama rubber tree (Castilla elastica), both widely recognized as destructive invasive tree species in the Pacific islands. Several large populations of these aggressive tree species were recently discovered in the western and central areas of Tutuila adjacent to the National Park, home to the only paleotropical rainforest in the United States park system.
Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans: $184,535 will be used to produce high-resolution 3D mapping of Guam’s priority coral reef ecosystems at Cocos Lagoon and Achang Reef Preserve; and provide coral reef management support and participation in the annual Coral Reef Task Force meetings.
University of Guam: $328,671 for a Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle interdiction program that will destroy CRB breeding sites and establish traps to monitor CRB populations at the ports in Guam. Funding is intended to slow the decline of coconut and palm trees ion Guam and reduce the risk and threat of the CRB spreading throughout the Marianas.
USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources: $216,787 to fund strike teams who conduct systematic surveys to search for and neutralize recently discovered outbreaks of the Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which has already impacted almost half of the coral species found in the USVI.
USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources: $74,468 to help address growing concern in the territory about rapidly growing feral populations of the Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) on St. Thomas and of red-tailed boa constrictors (boa constrictor) on St. Croix, as well as other pet-trade species such as jaguars, pumas, monitors, pythons, and other non-native species. Funding helped create billboards and signage for airports and ports of entry for National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Officials are also developing a USVI Exotic Pet Amnesty Week to help encourage the transition of illegal exotic pets into permitted pets that may be tracked. A nearly-completed invasive species website and data repository will help establish and develop proper channels for reporting and early detection of non-native and invasive species.
Micronesian Conservation Trust, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia: $243,750 to enhance ecosystems and food security in Pohnpei through the prevention, eradication, control, and management of several invasive alien species prevalent in Pohnpei: false Sakau (Piper auritum), the chain of love (Antigonon Leptopus), the scarlet ivy Gourd (Coccinia grandis), the octopus tree (Schefflera actinophylla), the Bengal trumpet vine (Thunbergia grandiflora), and the Honolulu rose (Clerodendrum chinense). The proposed funding will help achieve prioritized actions identified by the Invasive Species Taskforce of the Pohnpei Strategic Action Plan (2018-2022) and the FSM and States Biodiversity and Strategic Action Plans (2019–2023).
Coral Reef Research Foundation, Palau: $170,039 to complete a detailed bathymetric mapping of up to 300 meters depth of the outer reef slope of the main Palau Island group and areas within the lagoon. The mapping project will be used as an education and technology project across a broad spectrum of the Palau community.
Island Conservation, Palau: $244,756 to implement a showcase eco-system rehabilitation and restoration project in the UNESCO-designated Rock Island Southern Lagoon of Palau. While the area boasts incredible marine and terrestrial biodiversity, invasive rats, feral cats, smothering vines, snails, and other agricultural pests have disrupted and eroded these once-pristine eco-systems contributing to biodiversity decline. The project will focus on removing invasive rats from the Ngemelis Island complex and promote the recovery of seabird populations.
Brown Tree Snake Grant Funding for fiscal year 2020: $2,924,979
OIA also provided $2,924,979 to combat the invasive brown tree snake in Guam. The fiscal year 2020 funding supports an ongoing interagency collaboration with partners from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and National Wildlife Research Center, the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Services, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Guam Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources.
The Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program supports efforts to protect the health of all natural resources in the U.S. insular areas for the long-term economic and social benefit to their island populations. For more information on funding assistance available through the Office of Insular Affairs, visit the OIA website at https://www.doi.gov/oia/financial-assistance. (PR)