The vision for the Talakhaya/Sabana watershed is “Protehi i rikesan i tano yan i tasi” which translates to “Protect the wealth of our land and water.” Talakhaya was identified as a priority watershed because it consists of a lot of mostly public and protected land which was being affected by uncontrolled burning. The fires, which were suspected of being set by poachers who were illegally hunting deer within the conservation area, were wiping out all of the upland vegetation and leaving the soil exposed. When the rainy season began, the soil washed down onto the reef, simultaneously hurting the coral reefs and making it difficult for vegetation to grow back into the bare bedrock left on land.
In order to mitigate these problems, managers have taken multiple approaches to taking care of the watershed.
· With assistance from USDA-NRCS, Rota DLNR Forestry and DEQ have coordinated a revegetation program every summer since 2007. Local volunteers receive a small stipend for planting fire-resistant grasses and soil-producing trees in the watershed to reverse the damage from the fires
· Field agents act as surveillance and outreach officers in the watershed during the dry season in order to look-out for suspicious behavior, report fires at the first sign and talk to visitors about the importance of respecting the resources that the conservation area provides
· An education campaign is being conducted to help the public understand the importance of protecting the watershed and to get people to experience Talakhaya and the Sabana in a way that doesn’t involve taking the resources, but instead allows them to appreciate the beauty and tourism potential of the area.
For more information about conservation priorities and activities taking place in Talakhaya, please view the entire Talakhaya Conservation Action Plan here. You can contact Kathryn Graziano at 664-8500 with questions or to get involved. Follow this link to view the project's photo album.
CHECK OUT this new video (image below is a link to the YouTube video) of the intrepid Rota Forestry staff and volunteers planting vetiver grass for the Talakhaya Revegetation Project. Keep in mind that everyone in this video is wearing 40-50 pound bags of grass and dirt on their backs! The large eroded area on the left at the beginning of the video shows an exposed cliff that collapsed during the tropical storm that passed Rota a week before the video was shot. The pathway in the foreground on the right is about 12" wide with a 30 ft. drop to the left. Thanks to all of our volunteers and colleagues for their hard work protecting our environment and for staying safe during the 10 weeks of planting this year!
Since 2007, volunteers have been helping Rota Forestry and the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality to prevent wildfires and replant the Talakhaya area to keep the soil on land where it belongs. The goal of the project is to restore ecosystem heath to the area for the benefit of the people on Rota. Volunteers work during the summer rainy season to dig holes in the hard rock in Talakhaya where they then plant grasses with good roots that will hold the soil in place. Volunteers also plant native trees and create natural rock barriers to slow down rainwater and keep it from causing erosion as it flows towards the ocean.
Due to increased interest in the area and the efforts of the Talakhaya volunteers and community, only two major fires have been observed in the conservation area since 2008. Before the project started, fires happened several times a year. In 2014, 18 volunteers have been working all summer to out-plant 30,000 grasses and trees in the Talakhaya area to save our soil and save our reef.
Every year fire spreads across the Talakhaya/Sabana conservation area in Rota. An 1,100 acre limestone cliff dissected by streams and limestone forests, dominated by introduced grasses, and home to a variety of wildlife and plants including the endangered Marianas Fruit Bat, Marianas Crow, Green Sea Turtle, ferns, and fire tree. In 2005 the Talakhaya area was identified as a priority watershed due to deforestation and soil loss as well as its location adjacent to a coral reef housing a variety of fish. Since 2007 the Talakhaya Watershed Re-vegetation Project plants seedling in barren areas to counteract soil erosion, but the fires neutralize their efforts. Burning the Talakhaya exposes soil that is harder to re-vegetate and exposed sediment can be easily transported to the beach and ocean, which can adversely affect turtle nesting and reef health. These illegal fires also decrease native forest by pushing the boundary of grassland and forest reducing habitat for bird species. A campaign to raise awareness about the fires of the Talakhaya kicked off in March 2013 with a public opinion survey. Campaign Activities that have taken place were the Easter Egg Hunt at the Sabana Peace Memorial Park, booths at fiestas, school presentations, newspaper advertisement, and giveaways throughout the year. The official campaign will be wrapping up in March 2014, concluding with a second public opinion survey.