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The Navy base where SEALs train is being protected by Christmas trees

Sailors volunteer to shore up the sand dunes with recycled Christmas trees at the enlisted beach at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

STEVE EARLEY/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT (TNS)

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 19, 2018

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — When the Chesapeake Bay’s wind-blown waves crash into the shore, they can take precious sand back into the water with them.

That constant threat of erosion often leads to expensive beach nourishment projects, and in some cases to people abandoning waterfront homes.

But the Navy has found another way to shore up the shoreline at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, which is home to Navy SEALs, amphibious warships and expeditionary combat forces.

The bayfront base asks sailors and civilians who work there to donate their used Christmas trees each January so they can help stabilize the base’s sand dunes. In some cases, the base also will get trees donated from local Christmas tree lots.

“The dunes serve as a structure to protect not only our training beaches, but also our infrastructure such as our buildings,” said Sharon Waligora, environmental director for the joint base.

The trees are put down on their sides in a line behind wooden sand fences that are in the dunes. The pine needles naturally stop blowing sand and help build the dunes into larger hills. Eventually, the trees are entirely covered in sand. The Navy also has planted sea grasses to keep the sand from blowing away.

More than 250 trees were donated to Little Creek this year while about 50 were donated at Fort Story. While Little Creek and Fort Story are managed by the same commander, they’re separated by several miles of shore and the Lynnhaven Inlet. Over the past decade, more than 2,000 trees have been donated to the joint base, according to the Navy.

More than a dozen volunteers from local units hauled trees by hand from a parking lot at Enlisted Beach on Little Creek on Wednesday before two wheel loaders and three Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement dump trucks began dropping them off instead.

“The project is an opportunity that enables Seabees to be part of a meaningful environmental stewardship effort that also has significant training value,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cate Cook, a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command spokeswoman. “Any time that Seabees spend operating equipment they use in forward deployed environments, it only enhances their proficiency and ability to execute the mission.”

A similar scene was scheduled to repeat itself Thursday at Fort Story.

“It’s a win-win situation. It gives our Navy commands training opportunity,” Waligora said. “And then we get to help preserve our dunes as well as keep these trees out of a landfill.”

The sailors who helped with the program at Little Creek came from Construction Battalion Mobile Unit 202, Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 and Beachmaster Unit 2.

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©2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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