Center for Island Sustainability develops novel tools to reforest Humåtak Watershed

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“What we’re doing at CIS is developing methods to reforest this area using some of our native plants,” – CIS Executive Director Austin Shelton.

Guam – There is more to the Humåtak Watershed than meets the eye. But with frequent acts of arson this past summer, the health and well-being of the southern hillsides could have trickling repercussions to coral reefs down below.

With this distressing news, PNC teamed up with the Center for Island Sustainability (CIS) crew for a closer look on the watershed’s status.

“We’re here at the top of La Sa Fu’a Watershed in the village of Humåtak,” shared Austin Shelton, the Executive Director for CIS.

Shelton and his crew are passionate about protecting the coral reefs under the sea by addressing the watersheds at the very top.

“The reason that we’re up here is to show the top of the watershed to see the sources of erosion that are affecting everything downstream from here,” Shelton explains.

The new Executive Director says arsonists are some of the major culprits in erosion.

“[The arsonists are] burning the hillsides in order to make it easier to catch deer. Even fires that get out of control from backyard fires are things that contribute to creating badlands,” Shelton said.

The results of a badly burnt hillside remain long after the fires are extinguished.

“Badlands are actively eroding areas where nutrients and the topsoil are all washed away. And it’s not naturally able to re-vegetate anymore. So, what we’re doing at CIS is developing methods to reforest this area using some of our native plants,” Shelton said.

And one of those methods is fairly unique. Using a special mixture of clay, soil, and fertilizer, the CIS team showed PNC how to shape over a dozen, hand-sized seed pods into what the team refers to as “seed slings.”

“What we’re doing is using seed balls and we’re calling them seed sling stones and shaping them like the ancient CHamoru sling stones,” Shelton shared.

After shaping, the CIS crew traveled to the top of the Humåtak Watershed where the seed stones are then hurled over the cliff line. Precision, in this instance, is not a necessary factor, as the CIS crew share that the seeds have all they need to take root upon landing.

But why is reforestation so vital to the island?

“Now, all the things that we do on the land have an effect on the coral reefs below, and the coral reefs ecosystem. So, what we’re really trying to do here is reduce the sources of erosion, irresponsible off-roading, and feral ungulates like pigs and deer. These are all the main sources of erosion,” Shelton said.

The CIS Executive Director added that it’s oftentimes the special and novel tools like the seed sling stones that make a positive impact for our island’s ecology.

“The healthier our forests will be, the healthier our coral reefs will be,” he concluded.