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Marines use hydroseeding to heal land quickly

Date Posted: 2004-03-25

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan — While traveling along the Okinawa expressway, some of the island's scenic landscape can be seen for miles. When passing through the central area, the beautiful mountainsides are distorted with many noticable brown patches.

According to Larry R. Soenen, a soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service working for the bases Environmental Branch, Marine Corps Base S. D. Butler is helping to re-vegetate eroded areas caused by field training and naturally occurring landslides. The Marine Corps decided this was an important environmental issue and brought in the U.S. Forest Service to make sure the job was done right.

“Marines need to train but the Marine Corps also cares about Okinawa and is committed to the island,” Soenen said. “We care about the concerns of the Okinawan people and want to show them we’re dedicated to taking care of the land as well as training on it.”

These eroded areas are more than just a cosmetic blemish. The real problem is the red soil run-off that occurs when it rains on these areas. The rain causes the soil to become suspended in the water and flow downward toward the ocean where it potentially deposits on the coral reefs. Over time the soil kills these reefs and the marine life on them.

Kanenao Heshiki, soil erosion control specialist, Camp Butler Environmental Branch said the re-introduction of vegetation, specifically the root system, prevents red soil run-off by allowing the rainwater to flow cleanly to the ocean.

“The Marine Corps’ hydroseeding has been the only hydroseeding in the history of Okinawa,” said Heshiki. “Now that we know it is effective, we can try and convince Japan to use it more often.”

To promote the growth of vegetation as quickly as possible, MCB Butler hired Nakanihon Air Service Co., Ltd. to seed the mountain using their helicopter. This company had previous experience in aerial spraying. Under the supervision of the environmental branch, workers mixed up a soup-like concoction of five different types of seeds, soil, soil conditioners, and fertilizers. They attached drums of the mixture to the helicopter, which they used to spread it over the eroded areas of the mountains.

“Another erosion control measure underway is the establishment of the Wedelia Plant,” Soenen said. “It is very durable and fire resistant. This plant can stand up to the shooting Marines need to do at the range.”

Soenen said the Wedelia planting project will take work and several years, but in the meantime hydroseeding will give mother nature a boost of rich greenery in only about one month’s time.

“Soil erosion occurs naturally on these steep slopes,” Soenen said. “The weight of the water combined with using the land causes these landslides. By hydroseeding, we’re helping to heal these scars more quickly than waiting for them to heal on their own.”

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