Mariana Fruit Bat in Rota Mariana Fruit Bat in Rota Laura Gombar
04 August 2020

Choosing To Stay On My Rock

Written by: Laura Gombar

Growing up on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, I’ve been surrounded by people who constantly say “When I get older I’m getting off this rock.” I guess that’s understandable considering for a lot of us, myself included, travel to anywhere else in the world is uncommon. But while most leave the “rock” to find their dream jobs, if you plan to work in conservation, Guam is the rock you want to be stuck on. The Marianas is full of species that are listed and need all the help they can get. Many of these species can’t be found anywhere else in the world! So for my final blog post, I’ve decided to discuss the experience which caused me to decide I want to stay on my rock.

Guam, like many of its sister islands, was once populated with birds of all colors and sizes that could only be found there. However, in the late 1940s or early 1950s, the Brown Tree Snake was introduced to Guam. This species rapidly increased in numbers, extirpating majority of our birds and leaving Guam with few native and endemic birds left. As you may have guessed, I was not born before the 1950s, so I grew up with little to no birds on my island. I’ve heard stories but never got the chance to see them which was absolutely heartbreaking.

In December of 2019, I had the opportunity to present some research in our sister islands, Saipan and Rota. Many had congratulated me on the opportunity to “get off the rock” but I had one thing, and one thing only, that I was excited to see: the birds. While in Saipan, I was able to see some native sea birds flying along the cliffs and on the backroads. However, it wasn’t until my trip to Rota that I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement. After my first night in Rota, I had awoken to the sound of birds chirping for the first time in my life. But that was only the start. After presenting our work, we had taken a small drive to the bird sanctuary (which is just a cliff with steps down and a railing). The bird sanctuary had it all. Large black and white sea birds were soaring, Sihek (Kingfishers) were zooming through the skies, and other birds could be seen below in massive nests scattered throughout the treetops. But when I saw my first Fanihi (Mariana fruit bat), I lost my mind. I was practically jumping up and down and I’m sure my field partner could feel my energy. These were the animals that my ancestors had lived with and I got to see them in person! It was that experience that made me decide “I’m staying on my rock and one day, I’m going to bring all the birds and bats back with me.” Conservation in the Marianas is a big deal, but working in conservation on Guam is an absolute dream.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Ecological Services Marianas Field Office

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