Marines 'MudOps' Help Hawaii's Endangered Water Birds

Dr. Diane Drigot
Dr. Diane Drigot
Sergeant Justin Varga
Sergeant Justin Varga

KANEOHE (KHNL) -- Hawaii is home to a quarter of the endangered species in the United States. Marines here in Hawaii are doing their part to help the environment while gaining valuable combat experience.

Hawaii's endangered water birds like to nest on muddy surfaces but invasive pickle weed has taken over the ground they used to call home. Weeds are no match for the United States Marines Corps.

"Hawaii is considered the endangered species capitol of the United States and it's about time that we showed the world how we can be leaders in keeping them from becoming extinct," said Dr. Diane Drigot, a natural resource manager.

Though this may look like total destruction, Marines from Kaneohe Bay's Marine Corps Base Hawaii gain valuable combat skills while giving the birds their natural habitat back.

"Today the training that these Marines are getting their getting training on terrain driving, learning how to drive on terrain that is not just flat," said Sergeant Justin Varga,  a section leader.

The Amphibious Assault Vehicle is leading the fight against extinction here in Hawaii. They're using the 27-ton machine to save a one-ounce bird.

The assault vehicle turns over the earth and kills the weeds to make way for nesting season in May. When the baby stilt birds hatch, their mothers don't feed them, they have to walk to a pond and feed themselves.

"We get to do a lot of terrain driving and recovery where the vehicles get stuck and we have to pull them out and we get a little muddy at the same time," Varga said.

Since the programs inception in the early 1980s, the population of stilts on the base has grown from 60 to 160.

"That's almost tripling the population that prefer to live here over the last quarter century so we think the marines are doing the right thing by helping the birds and helping them get training," Dr. Drigot said.

The site is also home to three other endangered water bird species: the Coot, the Kaloa duck, and the Gallano.