Looking Ahead

by David Ginsburg
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

Last week, my colleagues and I wrapped up our second annual Maymester course to Guam and Palau. While the course participants returned to Los Angeles, I stayed behind on the island of Guam to catch up with old friends and colleagues, and to begin sketching out a rough draft of next year’s scientific course content.

This year’s course was a tremendous success. During our time on Guam and Palau, we received phenomenal cooperation from local conservation scientists and resource managers who provided us with first-rate guest lectures and exclusive back-stage tours of their research facilities.

Aquatic biologist Brent Tibbatts standing next to the Masso Reservoir. Photo by David Ginsburg.

On the top of my list for next year’s activities is a trip to the Masso Reservoir Restoration Project, which is located in the Asan Piti Watershed on the southwestern coast of Guam. My colleague Brent Tibbatts, who is an aquatic biologist with the Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatics and Wildlife Resources, is heading up this project and is keen to develop a research project with next year’s class.

Map of Asan Piti Watershed. Image courtesy of the Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatics and Wildlife Resources.

Constructed by the U.S. Navy in 1945 for the storage of drinking water, Masso Reservoir was abandoned shortly thereafter due to excessive siltation. Until recently, the Masso site was overgrown by exotic and invasive plants, and was an example of a failed and forgotten environmental project of the past. New life was breathed into Masso Reservoir when it was designated as a wetland mitigation project for the loss of coral reef habitat (via sedimentation) in Apra Harbor as a result of the U.S. military buildup on Guam.

Mariana Common Moorhen. Image courtesy of the Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatics and Wildlife Resources.

Interestingly, Masso Reservoir is one of the last known nesting grounds of the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus guami), which is endemic the Marianas Islands. Listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fewer than 50 individuals reside on the island. The combination of the watershed’s impact on coral reefs and habitat for endangered species makes it an exciting study location for next year’s class. Potential projects include the removal and monitoring of exotic and invasive plants, measurements of water quality and flow, and surveys of aquatic and marine organisms.

As USC Dornsife’s environmental studies Maymester course in Guam and Palau continues to mature, there clearly is no shortage of academic content. We have established research collaborations on Guam and Palau and anticipate continuing making a positive impact on both islands while enriching our students’ education through experiential, hands-on learning.

Dr. David Ginsburg is a marine biologist and lecturer in the Environmental Studies Program at USC Dornsife. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Guam and has conducted scientific diving in both Guam and Palau for a number of years. His scientific diving experience includes under-ice specimen collection in Antarctica.

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