by Dan Kasang
I’ve always believed the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” to be little more than a lazy man’s quantification. However, after two days of diving with USC ENST in the Pacific Ocean near Guam, I realize it would take more than a thousand words to accurately describe the fantasy of this underwater world. Just 15 feet below the crystalline surface near Apra Harbor a verdant reef ecosystem supports a plethora of life; from 3-foot-long sea cucumbers to tiny day-glow fish, from moray eels to giant clams with purple flesh and a host of other marine critters.
Despite the harbor’s natural beauty that draws scuba enthusiasts, jet skiers and spear fishermen, the harbor is a working port and provides access to a naval base. As part of the proposed military build-up on Guam, sections of the harbor would be dredged up to 55 feet deep in order to accommodate the larger aircraft carriers that would be stationed at the base. The military drafted an environmental impact statement based upon their plans that would provide millions of dollars worth of mitigation towards improving the health of terrestrial waterways on the island. The initial statement was met with skepticism by the Chamorro because the build-up would limit access to culturally significant sites on the island. In addition, local and federal fish and wildlife officials deemed the EIS as insufficient because it didn’t properly address issues of sediment that would created by the dredging as well as not accounting for certain species that use the harbor.
In our three hours of dive time we were able to witness two endangered Hawksbill sea turtles that feed upon the reef and a disgruntled octopus that had come here to breed, both of which were not accounted for in the EIS. Fortunately, due to the large public response a second assessment was conducted and a new EIS was released this past week. Hopefully an equitable balance between nature and defense can be found on this beautiful island.