As the skiff sailed across Cabin Bay, high-pitched twittering and piping sounds echoed over the water. Four football-shaped black birds with white wing patches on the water near the point seemed engrossed in calls emanating from speakers and several decoys sitting rigidly on the rock. One of the teens pointed and yelled, “There they are!”
Sam Stark, an Oregon State University researcher leading the teens on their bird adventure, smiled and congratulated her on her keen eye. Stark developed several activities for these lucky middle schoolers, to teach them how scientists work to restore populations of wildlife affected by a major oil spill.
Since 2009, the council has partnered with the Chugach Children’s Forest to help youth from the Exxon Valdez oil spill region connect to Prince William Sound directly through unique outdoor experiences. The council has co-sponsored multiple expeditions in which students from Cordova to Kodiak ply the waters of Prince William Sound by kayak, charter vessel, and ferry. The wonders of the Sound, its wildlife, its communities, and its beauty have touched them all, and along the way these youth have learned how the Exxon Valdez oil spill affected this special place and how they can be part of preventing future spills.
The Chugach Children’s Forest, itself a partnership between the Chugach National Forest and the non-profit organization, Alaska Geographic, introduces diverse, young Alaskans to their wild backyard. One of the Children’s Forest’s goals is to “address the critical challenges of people’s growing disconnect from nature paired with mounting impacts on our natural world” and to “bring together communities, educators, land management agencies, and environmental and social non-profits to offer a wide range of innovative programs.”
Kate Morse was nine years old and living in Pennsylvania when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in 1989. Although she didn’t directly experience the spill personally, she now works to bring the spill to life for a new generation.
Morse has been the Program Director for Cordova’s Copper River Watershed Project since 2008. The organization is based in Cordova but does work throughout the Copper River watershed drainage area, which includes not only Cordova, but Glennallen, Kenny Lake, Mentasta Lake, and Paxson. Morse says the area is about the size of West Virginia, and the population of the region depends on healthy salmon runs.
“It takes an entire watershed to support healthy salmon populations due to their complex life cycle from salt to fresh water and back to salt water again,” says Morse. “Our education programs really aim at getting people to see themselves as part of a watershed community, rather than just the stream in their backyard.”
She says her organization tracks the council’s projects closely because the Trans-Alaska pipeline runs through the Copper River basin.
“There are major river systems in the area,” Morse says. “The prospect of removing oil from a glacial river, how the oil would contaminate the entire water column and the glacial sediments, it would be impossible to clean it up.”
By Beth Trowbridge
Executive Director for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies
Four Homer high school students, a project leader, and lots of volunteers took part in the center’s “Creating Teen Leaders through Marine Technology and Research” program this summer, helping monitor for aquatic invasive species throughout Kachemak Bay.
The students built an underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, from a kit, which they used to explore the Homer and Seldovia harbors for aquatic invasive species. “We all had various skills that we could contribute but it took all of our expertise to organize, create, and improvise the structure,” said Landon Bunting, one of the students, describing the teamwork that developed between the students during the project.
The students also used drones to help learn to navigate the underwater ROV. “Flying the drones and watching them be flown allowed for a better understanding of operating ROVs through a ‘fluid’ such as air or water,” added Bunting. “This experiment allowed each of us to learn from our mistakes and to learn the benefit of different types of remote operated vehicles.”