NOAA’s Sam Candio talks about research conducted aboard the Okeanos Explorer in Alaska this year during the inaugural Seward Marine Science Symposium on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Seward, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

NOAA’s Sam Candio talks about research conducted aboard the Okeanos Explorer in Alaska this year during the inaugural Seward Marine Science Symposium on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Seward, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward hosts debut marine science symposium

The symposium kicked off Sunday with a series of panels highlighting the marine science work different state groups are doing in Southcentral Alaska

From deepwater exploration to citizen science projects, marine researchers and enthusiasts from around Alaska converged in Seward on Sunday for the inaugural Seward Marine Science Symposium.

Held over the course of three days out of the K.M. Rae Marine Education Building on Third Avenue, the symposium kicked off Sunday with a series of panels highlighting the marine science work different state groups are doing in Southcentral Alaska. Other activities planned for Monday and Tuesday included tours of local marine facilities.

Facilities toured included the University of Alaska Fairbanks Seward Marine Center, the Chugach Regional Resources Commission’s Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute and the Alaska SeaLife Center. Attendees were also invited to participate in a community mural painting portraying sea life, to be displayed near the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute.

Sam Candio, an expedition coordinator for NOAA Ocean Exploration, managed this year’s series of Seascape Alaska expedition series, which had a stated mission of improving knowledge about unexplored or poorly understood areas offshore in Alaska and was conducted aboard NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer.

The series consisted of five expeditions, three of which focused on mapping. Candio said their work started in May in the Aleutians, but ultimately spanned the whole Gulf of Alaska, including Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Seward. Candio said his team’s expeditions are meant to help fill in information gaps that exist in different areas.

“I think we have a responsibility to make that accessible to the public, and make people care, because there’s a lot to care about and this stuff is extremely interesting,” Candio said.

Dr. Tuula Hollmen, of the Alaska SeaLife Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, presented work her team has been doing with students in Seward to collect community data about local seabirds. Their Resurrection Bay survey is the only year-round seabird survey in Alaska and has been running since 2011.

The survey area runs from the Seward Harbor and covers the nearshore area around Resurrection Bay. Since 2011, Hollmen said they’ve conducted 120 surveys and identified 78 species of seabirds in the bay. It was in 2018 that Hollmen said they started looking into ways to engage the community in their surveying efforts.

The Seward Community Foundation agreed to fund a yearlong pilot study that had scientific objectives like enhancing the frequency of their monthly surveys and collecting data about environmental conditions in Resurrection Bay.

“Our hopes are to provide a platform for next generation scientists and offer students opportunities to learn about research as a potential future, career or interest,” Hollmen said.

Participating in the program, Hollmen said, helps teach students field skills and the scientific process, as well as data quality control and how to communicate their findings effectively.

UAF’s Kendall Mashburn, also talked about ways she is engaging Alaska students in marine science. She helps run a program called DEMBones, which started in Seward but is now offered exclusively in Southeast Alaska. Through that program, high school students help take apart animal carcasses and then reassemble the skeletons for display.

Mashburn said students who participate in the program receive dual college and high school credits, which helps familiarize them with the University of Alaska system before they’ve left high school.

“It also gives the message that education is in their hands,” Mashburn said. “They’re really the boss of it, right? And it can be fun if they let it be fun. And it also provides that sense of stewardship like something bigger than yourself that you are hoping to be responsible for.”

Other speakers at this year’s symposium included Heather Coletti, of the Southwest Alaska Network and the National Park Service, Dustin Carl of the Chugach Regional Resources Commission, Timothy Mullet and Paul Burger of the National Park Service, and others.

More information about the Seward Marine Science Symposium on NOAA’s website at oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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