Vol. 33, No. 10
Gay Sheffield, Marine Advisory agent in Nome, gave a talk at the National Park Service Beringia Days International Conference in Anadyr, Russia, on “Bering Strait: Updates on Shared Events.” She also participated in the Chukotka Policy Tour and events marking the 25th anniversary of the US–USSR Friendship Flight.
The September Beringia Days conference focused on indigenous community heritage on both sides of the Bering Strait and the preservation of the area's biological wealth. Dozens of Russian and international researchers, arctic specialists, and tour operators converged on the Chukotka capital, to spend two days discussing the problems facing the Bering Sea territories. From the United States they represented the National Park Service, University of Alaska, University of Michigan, and Institute of Arctic Studies. Russians came from the Likhachev Natural and Cultural Heritage Institute, Northeastern Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Far Eastern branch, and the Beringia National Reserve.
The agenda included collaborative projects on marine mammals, support for the Bering Sea observation network, the preservation and promotion of the Beringia indigenous heritage, traditional knowledge about the polar bear and its habitat, and cultural interaction.
Sheffield’s talk focused on Russian–U.S. shared resources and concerns, and the value of shared communications. She highlighted recent events in the Bering Strait region: the sick seal Unusual Mortality Event, St. Lawrence Island oiled seals, and the transboundary movements of branded sea lions. Both countries monitor sea lions that have Russian and American brands.
Alaska Sea Grant is providing traineeships for five graduate students this semester. All are receiving tuition and stipend support in conjunction with Sea Grant–funded research grants to University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty.
Chris Manhard’s PhD research examines the effects of hybridizing seasonally isolated subpopulations of pink salmon that spawn in the same stream in Southeast Alaska. Tony Gharrett is Manhard’s advisor.
For his PhD research, Sean Brennan is building a detailed strontium isotope map of the Nushagak River watershed that describes variation of the isotope tracer in river waters and in otoliths of rearing and spawning Chinook and coho salmon, non-migratory slimy sculpin, and seasonally migratory arctic grayling. Matthew Wooller is Brennan’s major professor.
Ilona Kemp’s PhD research focuses on marine anthropology in southwestern Alaska. She is interested in the cultural significance of herring fisheries and the relationship among fisheries, marine mammals, and climate change. Chanda Meek is advising Kemp.
Zac Hoyt continues his PhD research investigating the impacts of sea otters on commercial fisheries in Southeast Alaska, including monitoring the locations of radio-tagged sea otters and meeting with residents of communities affected by sea otters. Ginny Eckert is Hoyt’s major professor.
Asia Beder began a master’s degree program in fisheries in January 2013 and spent her first semester working at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward on the nutrition and condition of Alaska red king crab larvae. Since she moved to Juneau, she has collected juvenile crab and participated in a shrimp survey. Ginny Eckert advises Beder.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have conducted bioblitz species identification events in many areas of the United States, but the one they held recently in Ketchikan was a little different. In Alaska, SERC scientists trained volunteers to look for native and expected species as well as some that are not supposed to be present—marine invasive species. In less pristine locations farther south non-native species have already invaded in droves.
Ketchikan Marine Advisory agent Gary Freitag helped SERC prepare for and conduct the daylong Marine Invasive Species Bioblitz last month at the University of Alaska Southeast. SERC researchers and more than 30 volunteers took 200 samples in the Ketchikan area to get a good idea of the broad range of species present, including invasives. One of the primary goals was to evaluate the quality of data obtained using citizen science as a monitoring tool. Indications are good—it looks like data reported by trained volunteers can be very useful to scientists.
Freitag and Greg Ruiz, Smithsonian marine ecologist, are leading an invasive species monitoring project in Southeast Alaska for which Freitag routinely takes samples. A few months ago they began preparing for the bioblitz by hanging 100 weighted plates in various underwater locations in Ketchikan, providing surfaces for marine organisms to grow on. Several SERC scientists spent the week prior to the bioblitz diving and taking samples of the marine biota in part for the lab training. On bioblitz day, after lab sessions that focused on marine animal identification, Freitag and other scientists took the volunteers out on the docks and shoreline and taught them how and where to look. Volunteers pulled up the plates and checked them out, and looked over the dock edges where they used flashlights to inspect pilings for growing organisms.
What did they see? Mostly they saw native tunicates, anemones, segmented worms, bivalves, gastropods, bryozoans, decorator crabs, sea stars, and nudibranchs, as well as a few invasive tunicate species. “It is exciting to be able to identify these things that have always been underfoot,” said one volunteer.
While some volunteers limited their participation to one day, others will commit to regularly monitoring a certain area to check for marine invasive species. Julie Landwehr, who teaches marine biology and oceanography at Ketchikan High School, plans to “adopt” a dock that she and her students will check periodically and report on. SERC and other programs like to depend on local volunteers to routinely monitor their environs, because the scientists can’t be everywhere at once.