Experts learn strategies to address possible natural resource crises

February 15, 2017

Gay Sheffield at podium addressing crowd Gay Sheffield

Alaska Sea Grant’s Gay Sheffield took part in a recent gathering of experts from tribes, government agencies, and academic and private sectors to address vulnerabilities in the world’s food system. The event, held at the Hilton Anchorage February 1–3, was sponsored by the US State Department and the US Department of Agriculture.

The experts engaged in a One Health tabletop exercise. One Health is used as a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment.

“A One Health approach in responding to environmental issues is especially pertinent to the Arctic, where people depend upon natural resources, including marine and terrestrial wildlife,” said Sheffield, a Marine Advisory agent in Nome.

Participants included professionals from Alaska, Canada, and Finland.

“We were presented with two separate hypothetical environmental scenarios, (1) a wildfire and (2) a mass die-off of marine mammals resulting from an increased production of ocean algae that can produce toxins harmful to people and marine wildlife. The meeting participants grouped into teams and they worked together to provide a system-based plan to effectively respond to the separate scenarios,” said Sheffield.

The marine mammal die-off scenario was similar to the still ongoing 2011 Northern Pinniped Unusual Mortality Event that occurred in the four species of ice-associated seals in northern and western Alaska.

“Though the cause of that event remains unknown, the marine mammal die-off scenario was helpful,” she said.

“I received a better understanding of how different response agencies/organizations with different perspectives and missions can work together using the One Health approach on problems of human, wildlife, and environmental health,” she said. “Working collaboratively on these exercises helped initiate a shared response network locally, nationally, and internationally that we might draw upon in the event that the exercise in response turns into a real environmental crisis event.

— By Paula Dobbyn

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.