I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Kaktovik, Alaska—a small Inupiat village located on Barter Island on the coast of the Beaufort Sea! After being delayed by weather in Prudhoe Bay for three days, I was ecstatic to finally fly into Barter! I coordinate the Kaktovik Oceanography Program (a science outreach initiative led by my advisor Dr. Ken Dunton’s lab at UTMSI and the USF&WS Arctic Refuge), and was extremely disappointed (and anxiety-ridden) to miss the first 2 days of the program. But the three instructors that arrived on time, including master teacher Cliff Strain, had no problems setting up our classroom and were engaged in an intense discussion about nutrient pollution when I arrived!
Each year, the KOP targets a different education level and runs a 6-day program that aims to stimulate student’s interest in marine science through a combination of field, laboratory, and classroom lessons. This year, we focused our program on upper middle school and high school level students. Our theme was “Life as an Oceanographer”! We hoped to give students first-hand experiences of how an oceanographer might spend their days as well as teach them basic oceanographic techniques. Our goal was to demystify a career in science and show students that it is a viable career path for them. We took advantage of our unique location on an Arctic barrier island and used Kaktovik lagoon as a natural classroom.
During our Biology Day, students learned to pull a seine net to capture fish and invertebrates at the lagoon. Students later identified these critters and set up an aquarium tank in our classroom so they could observe the fish and mysids and amphipods throughout the week (spoiler alert, the sculpin ate all the inverts!). On Chemistry Day, students learned to use a data sonde to collect water quality measurements from the lagoon water column as well as to use nutrient test kits to make sure our aquarium animals enjoyed a healthy habitat. On Geology Day, students tested the hypothesis that Kaktovik Lagoon used to a freshwater lake (many thousands of years ago!), by comparing a sediment core they collected from the lagoon to one from a local freshwater pond. On our Comparison Day, the students became the field leaders, and they executed all the techniques they learned earlier on the ocean side of their island to see if there were any differences between the two environments.
On our very last day, we invited students of all ages to a Culture Day activity, led by Allyssa Morris, an outreach coordinator for ANWR. Allyssa and the kids discussed the important of local food sources, such as fish and whales, to the village of Kaktovik. Allyssa then shared foods that are vital to other Alaskan native communities and many kids tried foods they had never eaten before, such as King crab, baby octopuses, sockeye salmon, and a blueberry rhubarb jam she made herself. I too, got to try many new foods!
Kaktovik is a fascinating place to me; I experience new things every day I am there that force me to constantly reevaluate my mindset. I know I am a better educator and a better scientist for the time I have spent there. I’ve gotten to know the village and these kids over the last three years and it was bittersweet for me to say goodbye for what might be the last time. I’m graduating with my masters from UTMSI in December, so I probably will not coordinate the program again next year. I sincerely hope to find a way to return to Kaktovik sometime in the future!
(Click here to see more pictures from the program!)