NORTHERN TERRITORY, Australia -- U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin attended the unveiling of a conservation and awareness display for threatened giant clams Sept. 7 at the Territory Wildlife Park in Berry Springs, Northern Territory, Australia.
The Marines and sailors with MRF-D have volunteered at the park since the beginning of their six-month rotation as a part of community engagement efforts, part of which was working on the exhibit with fellow participants.
“Seeing the unveiling gives a sense of accomplishment that [Marines] were able to put this together,” said Cpl. Jessie Koogler, an administrative clerk with Company C, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, MRF-D. “It feels great to be part of putting together a display in remembrance of these amazing animals; like [the park director] said, they were about 100 years old.”
Giant clams like those featured in the exhibit are a vulnerable species as a result of poaching for their meat and large shells, and the purpose of the new installment at the park is to raise awareness for their endangerment with an informational and tangible display.
“The Marines who volunteered on this project are a part of something that was meaningful,” said Shael Martin, director of the Territorial Wildlife Park with the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. “This is to leave a legacy for the Marines’ six-month rotation, so when they go home they can be proud that they contributed to something amazing.”
The opportunity to work in the park was an excellent chance for the Marines to be part of the local community, improving their appreciation of Australian culture and awareness of the environment.
“Volunteering gives us a chance to really get to know the people here and build relationships with them, so they can get another aspect on what the Marine Corps is all about: not just fighting, but public relations and establishing that connection between the United States and Australia,” said Koogler, a native of Festus, Missouri. “The Marines enjoyed it and have a sense of accomplishment because they genuinely wanted to help.”
It’s more meaningful of an opportunity because it’s not just having the Marines clean up grounds, added Martin. The Marines got to learn about Australian wildlife and habitats.
“We’ve been volunteering here, we’ve gotten in waist-deep water in the whip ray exhibit to remove algae, moved debris from the exhibits and cleaned the cages of the reptile house, things like that,” according to Koogler. “It took 25 Marines about four hours to level the area in order to place gravel, pick up and move the giant clam shells using dollies, and place them at the conservation memorial.
Beyond purely military training, Marines’ involvement through community engagements in the Northern Territory shows their appreciation for Australia’s welcome.
“I value the chance to get out and do some work to help, and I’m thankful for the generosity of the Australians, the hospitality they’ve shown us,” finished Koogler.