Well, I made it all the way to Kaktovik on Barter Island, a coastal village on Alaska’s north slope. It’s over 1,000 miles away from my home on Port Aransas, TX. Although one is subtropical and one is arctic, both places are barrier islands, which enclose coastal lagoons.
I will be living at the US Fish and Wildlife Service “bunkhouse” in Kaktovik with several other groups of scientists for the next two weeks. The bunkhouse is a large cabin with a kitchen, living room (that is often filled with makeshift lab stations), and 4 bedrooms each with 2 bunkbeds. As the first member of the Texas crew I arrive, my first task was to organize our group’s food in the shared kitchen. There are two small general stores in Kaktovik, but fresh fruit and veggies are rarely stocked, so we shipped 10 boxes of fresh food to the bunkhouse. We definitely will not go hungry!
Over the next two weeks I will be collecting animal tissue samples for my own research as often as I can, but my main job is to coordinate and help teach the Kaktovik Oceanography Program.
This summer program for local students has been run by UTMSI and USFWS Arctic Refuge for the last several years. This year’s camp will be open to all middle and high schoolers in Kaktovik. We are lucky to have Cliff Strain, an award-winning teacher from Port Aransas, as our lead educator this year. The program’s educators also include: Greta Burkart, an aquatic ecologist from the Arctic Refuge; Tracy Burns, a Kaktovik-native and local teacher who also attended the program when she was younger; and Christina Bonsell and myself, both grad students at UTMSI. Our curriculum includes dissections to explore animal adaptations to the arctic environment, measuring coastlines to assess recent erosion, and water quality testing on the lagoon.
Over the next few days, we’ll organize our supplies at the Harold Kaveolook School and set up an aquarium tank so students can keep live samples.
A view of Kaktovik from above, notice the sea ice in the background!