Ships and aircraft that enter the CNMI as part of U.S. military exercises this week are being carefully inspected to ensure that they do not become carriers of Guam invasive species such as brown tree snakes, fire ants, or coconut rhinoceros beetles.
This was assured by Land and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente, who said that DLNR Invasive Species coordinator Frank Aldan is overseeing the inspections, in coordination with the Commonwealth Bureau of Military Affairs.
The Division of Customs and Quarantine is also tasked with handling all incoming vessels from Guam, with quarantine inspectors who are trained to monitor invasive species, such as coconut rhinoceros beetles, little fire ants, wasps and black widow, among others. These quarantine officers are certified inspectors for invasive species on any of the ports of entry in the CNMI.
In an interview, Aldan said they are in communication with the U.S. military and that they have a complete schedule of all vessels and aircraft arrivals on both Tinian and Saipan.
“Customs and Quarantine have been inspecting every military ship and aircraft that have landed on both Saipan and Tinian so far. We have set rhino beetle traps in both Saipan and Tinian airports and seaports for precautionary measures,” he said.
He added that he was on Tinian a week and half ago with Glenna Palacios, who is the special assistant to the governor for military affairs, and they met with the lead planners of Operation Pacific Iron 2021 to discuss the CNMI’s biosecurity concerns for the training.
“All cargo items moving to Saipan and Tinian are coming from outside of the Mariana Islands and not originating from Guam. All cargo have undergone complete washdown and pre-departure inspection prior to loading on vessels and aircraft bound to Tinian,” he said.
Aldan shared that the Colorado State University is the military’s biosecurity contractor, and that they have been conducting pre-departure inspections for all cargo items in Guam. The CSU team arrived on Tinian two days ago and is conducting early detection monitoring for the coconut rhinoceros beetles and other invasive invertebrates for the duration of the training.
Aldan will be back on Tinian next week on Monday to meet with the CSU team to discuss contingency plan should a situation occurs. He added that Invasive Species Technicians will be deployed to Tinian for the duration of the training.
In a separate interview, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Brown Tree Snake coordinator Trey Dunn also assures the community that all flights and vessels are being inspected for snakes.
“There are multiple inspections done on cargo and vessels coming in to Tinian for these exercises. USDA…Guam is inspecting with a canine trained to detect snakes before it leaves Guam. They also have deployed staff and canine to Tinian to inspect upon arrival to Tinian,” Dunn said. “CNMI DFW also has a staff and canine [on] Tinian who inspects normal cargoes and vessels. He also is assisting with inspections of the military exercises as needed.”
DLNR has been partnering with multiple agencies as a measure to heighten security on vessels and cargo entering the CNMI to prevent the entry of invasive species that could pose a threat to the islands’ natural resources.
More than 35 aircraft and approximately 800 airmen from the Pacific Air Forces and Air Combat Command are in Guam and Tinian to participate in the Operation Pacific Iron 2021.