The Council is inviting proposals for a project to analyze petroleum hydrocarbon chemistry and associated data, and report on the results of analyzing that data.
This data is produced under PWSRCAC’s Long-Term Environmental Monitoring Program. That monitoring program generally entails the collection of blue mussels, marine sediments, and passive sampling devices in Port Valdez, Prince William Sound, and the Gulf of Alaska, then having them chemically analyzed for a suite of petroleum hydrocarbon constituents (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, saturated hydrocarbons, and geochemical biomakers).
Proposal Deadline: October 25, 2021
Contract Award Announcement: November 5, 2021
The Exxon Valdez oil spill changed the harvest and use of wild resources in Southcentral Alaska. Various anecdotal reasons such as concerns about oil contamination meant folks were hesitant to use these traditional resources.
The Council recently partnered with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Subsistence to study and document why and how the spill affected subsistence harvesting activities, both immediately after the spill and in the years since.
Fish and Game researchers analyzed data collected from the communities of Cordova, Chenega, Tatitlek, Port Graham, and Nanwalek from 1984 to 2014.
That data confirmed that harvesting decreased during the first few years after the spill, but numbers started recovering around two to three years after the spill. Overall, the rates increased steadily through the 1990s and into the 2000s. By 2014, however, two important facts became apparent.
Reduced diversity of harvested species
Harvesters collect fewer types of resources than before the spill. Fortunately, the surveys tracked more than just numbers. Interviews with residents pointed to several causes, which changed over time.
While the drop immediately after the 1989 spill was mainly attributed to concerns about safety, this was less of a concern in more recent years. Among other causes, interviewees blamed overharvesting by both locals and hunters from outside the community.
A Nanwalek elder interviewed in 2014 noted that easy-to-access locations suffered the most. “Some people don’t have boats so they can’t go too far,” the elder told the surveyors. “They don’t even give ‘em a chance to get bigger.”
Fewer households harvesting more of the resources
Another discovery is that harvesting activities have become more concentrated. In later years, a smaller proportion of households harvested a relatively larger proportion of the resources.
For example, data for sockeye salmon harvests in Tatitlek shows that in 1987, the top 1/3 of the harvesters collected about 55% of the combined total. In 2014, the top 1/3 collected over 90%.
Sometimes those harvests are not shared with the community.
“The oil spill in one way was worse for subsistence and traditional community culture because it gave everyone money, and this gave them the ability for each individual to have their own boat motor,” noted an elder from Nanwalek in 2014. “Lots of people ended up doing subsistence only for themselves and overall, people shared [a lot] less together.”
How does this information help?
This project is helping the Council assess the potential long-term social consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and other factors that may affect subsistence harvests in the spill-affected region. These effects are critical to document to help plan and be prepared in case of a future oil spill.
More about this report:
Watch a presentation by the researchers on our YouTube channel:
Collaboration promotes navigation safety and protection of coastal marine resources
The Council has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska. PORTS® (Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System) improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management by providing real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other geospatial information to mariners. To help bring this resource to Valdez, the Council is streaming data from two new weather buoys to PORTS®.
In 2019, the Council worked with regional partners to deploy two buoys in Port Valdez; one off Jackson Point at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal and one near the Valdez Duck Flats. These buoys collect data to improve understanding of the meteorological and physical oceanographic environment at the terminal and Duck Flats.
The objectives of the PORTS® program are to promote navigation safety, improve the efficiency of U.S. ports and harbors and ensure the protection of coastal marine resources. The Council is mandated by Congress to study wind and water currents and other environmental factors in the vicinity of the Alyeska terminal which may affect the ability to prevent, respond to, contain and clean up an oil spill. The Council works with industry and regulators to ensure response readiness, evaluate risks and propose solutions. Allowing these weather buoys to integrate with PORTS® furthers these efforts while also meeting the system’s objectives.
“While the Council’s sole purpose for installing these buoys is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers, we believe the integration of this metocean data into NOAA’s PORTS® will benefit and improve safety for a variety of other maritime users,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the Council. “This is another excellent example of how collaborative science can have wide-ranging impacts for the betterment of all.”
Data from the buoys is already being provided to the Alaska Ocean Observing System. AOOS is a network that consolidates critical ocean and coastal weather observations and related information products. By monitoring the state’s coastlines and ocean waters, AOOS helps provide the information needed by residents to make better decisions concerning their use of the marine environment.
“This new system, and the others like them around the country, reduce ship accidents by more than 50 percent, increase the size of ships that can get in and out of seaports, and reduce traffic delays,” said Steven Thur, Ph.D., acting deputy director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “They also provide real-time, resilience-ready data as coastal conditions rapidly change, potentially threatening our coastal communities.”
The buoys were made possible through donations from Fairweather Science and partnerships with the Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the City of Valdez and Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The installation has been permitted by several agencies and cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has allowed the Council access into the marine security zone that borders the terminal.
The Council has a direct interest in the successful operation and maintenance of weather buoys and stations installed in Prince William Sound because weather affects safe oil transportation and spill response.
On December 5, the Council hosted Science Night, an evening to hear about the latest research affecting the safe transportation of oil through Prince William Sound. This annual event is an initiative of the Council’s Scientific Advisory Committee. SAC, as it’s known, ensures Council projects are based on the best scientific practices available.