Courtesy of Switgard Duesterloh

A partial view of Kodiak waterfront from Near Island.

Last week, about 50 people got together in Kodiak to think about changes to come to our town. The title of the conference was “Adapt Kodiak” and it was one of a series of such conferences held in numerous Alaskan communities to spur the process of thinking about how to take change into consideration in future planning. In Kodiak, the two days focused on four sessions: fisheries futures, food security and subsistence, infrastructure and energy, and culture and wellness. In each session, there were a couple of local speakers followed by a conversation between the participants where ideas were listed and then shared with the group. 

At the risk of sounding like English professor Jarod Griffin’s columns, I looked at the dictionary definitions of the words resilience and adaptability. Resilience is the capability to recover from difficulties or capacity to spring back into shape. Adaptability is the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions and the capacity to be modified for a new use or purpose. It struck me that these two words summarize a collective mindset which accepts the fact that our world is getting bent out of its original shape and change inherently comes with difficulties. That takes a change in our actions to live in a new way under new conditions. I also see a certain discord between these two terms: If we are talking about springing back into shape and overcoming difficulty, does that not mean we are clinging to the status quo, rather than preparing to change and accept new parameters to guide our actions by?

Thinking back to one of the seminars I took in college, I remember that in ecology, the animals living in a community were considered more resilient based on their ability to diversify their resources. In other words, a fish that can go between several different species of prey items is more resilient than for example a parrot fish that lives in a coral reef and has a mouth that is shaped in such a way that it can only eat pieces of coral and nothing else. A land-based example of a non-resilient species is the panda bear, which only eats young shoots of bamboo. For many years, Panda bears have only survived with the help of humans, who are enamored by their cuteness and grow the special food for them. Less fortunate is the polar bear, which depends on ice seals. With melting ice cover in the Arctic cutting off the polar bear’s access to its food, it has nothing else to eat and struggles for survival as a species. 

The same principal can be applied to fisheries. One might compare a fishing vessel to a predatory species in the ocean food web. If the boat specializes on one fishery, a shift in abundance or distribution of the target species can mean a devastating season for the boat. If the boat is involved in several fisheries, one loss can be compensated by better success with another species. There is good news: Kodiak’s fishing fleet is the most diverse in the state, meaning that overall as a community, Kodiak is more resilient than for example Dillingham, which depends almost entirely on red salmon. This is not a stand-down from red alert, because when ocean temperatures change drastically, everything in the food web is affected, because the very mechanisms of energy transfer are changing.

Have you ever noticed that most people in Kodiak can do a lot of things? I have friends who are fishermen, gardeners, small farmers, make their own house repairs and remodels, fix their vehicles, are teachers, artists and excellent cooks. These kinds of people are all around us and most Kodiak women don’t think twice about filleting a fish or changing a tire when needed. We don’t think about it, but in other parts of the world this is not the norm; it is part of our adaptation to the place we live in, where you can’t call on a service at every bend of the road. 

As we are in the midst of climate change, we will see more fluctuations and we will need that adaptability. A diversity of skills will help on an individual level. With these wise words I will now put on my work clothes and spend the rest of the day in the shop crafting and creating.  I recently diversified into artistic endeavors, so that when you go fishing for Christmas presents at the next bazaar, perhaps one of them can support environmental education in Kodiak. It is an amazing place we live in and resiliency takes personal change. The best things we can do is to keep talking, keep thinking, make one small change at a time and go vote!

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