Story by A1C Kyle Johnson on 04/07/2017The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska as it's first Species in the Spotlight Recovery Hero April 6.
Members of the 673d Civil Engineer Group involved in the decades-long partnership between JBER and NOAA received the award on behalf of the CEG and the installation.
"We have conducted multiple projects, beginning back in the 80s with JBER biologists flying surveys," said Chris Garner, a biologist assigned to the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron. "We gladly accept this award and do so with the full realization there was a whole group of people who helped us get to this point."
NOAA relies on JBER in a variety of ways, said Mandy Migura, National Marine Fisheries Service Cook Inlet beluga whale recovery coordinator. In 2014, there was a report of more than 70 beluga whales stranded in Eagle Bay left by the tide and washed up on the mudflats with five possibly dead.
With an estimated 340 belugas left in existence, a loss of five was significant, and 70 could have been devastating to the species. The report came from a JBER Army drone pilot who noticed the whales and notified the National Marine Fisheries office.
"We're focusing on partnerships, and JBER has been epitomizing that," Migura said.
Immediately, a large response effort was organized to examine the dead whales and save the stranded ones.
However, by keeping their eyes on the whales, the Soldiers were able to see as the tide came back in, all five of the assumed-dead whales were still alive. The efforts were called off, saving a significant amount of money.
This was one example of the partnership JBER has with the environmental agencies.
"We work with JBER to achieve a balance of being able to support the mission while also protecting the habitat of the Cook Inlet beluga whales," said Doug Mecum, Deputy Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska. "But JBER has gone above and beyond in supporting us and our research activities, it's a really important partnership for us and we wanted to commend JBER and the environmental team for the work they've done with us."
JBER works with environmental agencies on a regular basis to minimize habitat damage to the surrounding species, but by going the extra mile, have gone beyond minimizing risk to actively making a difference.