Resilience is the ability of a community to bounce back after a natural or manmade disaster. These or similar words were the opening of many of the presentations students from 16 high school teams from around Alaska prepared for the 19th annual Alaska Tsunami National Ocean Science Bowl. The competition consists of three parts: a research paper the students had to submit by December, the presentation given during the competition on the stage of the Seward High School auditorium in front of all the other teams and a panel of judges, and a round-robin quiz bowl with questions from all areas of marine science.

Each team picked a disaster to study and develop a plan for their community to bounce back from. There were several presentations on Tsunamis. There was one about the preparedness of Dutch Harbor if their backyard volcano Mount Makushin should blow and a couple of talks about coastal erosion. Both Petersburg and Kodiak studied the effects of marine debris on coastal resilience.

The Kodiak team first presented the results of a local marine debris survey conducted in November with biologist Bill Pyle from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and compared the results with a graph of the worldwide composition of marine debris. Then they talked about marine debris entanglement, when marine animals get entangled and trapped in derelict fishing gear or other trash. Since these animals have neither hands nor knives to cut themselves loose, they are stuck trailing wads of netting, buoys, plastic straps or fishing hooks, that often cut deep wounds into their flesh. Lost and abandoned crab pots continue to fish on the bottom of the ocean and cause the loss of many good crabs and fish.

Plastic in the ocean gets brittle over time due to sunlight and wave action and breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. These so-called microplastics are often mistaken by animals for food. Numerous species of fish and birds have substantial amounts of plastic in their stomachs. Since the plastic is not food, the animals can starve to death with a stomach full of trash.

Have you heard of microbeads? Think about it — would you like to brush your teeth with little plastic balls, or rub them into your face? Sound like a good idea? Well, numerous toothpastes and face scrubs have plastic microbeads added to them. If the packaging reads “microbeads” or “polyethylene,” then the product contains little bits of plastic that wash down the drain, travel through the sewer system and, because they are too small to get caught in the filters, enter the ocean. At just the same size as a small plankton organism, they are filtered and eaten by just about any animal that feeds low on the food chain.

Since December 2015, microbeads have been outlawed, but you can still find the products on the shelves of stores. Should you wonder what to do with the stuff you have at home, it is better off in the landfill than distributed in the ocean, so I recommend the trash can. Then there are the pthalates, but that is such a big topic that I wrote a column about it two weeks ago.

Action starts with education. At this year’s Tsunaami Bowl competition last weekend, Kodiak took home third place for their presentation, a big success for a young team.The students of the Kodiak Tsunami Bowl Team decided to continue to meet, study marine science and be ocean advocates through the rest of this school year and possibly the summer month. They also realized there is a lot to learn and study if they are to score higher in the quiz bowl next year.

It has been an amazing weekend with hundreds of high school students, and as many volunteers, researchers, teachers and coaches. Thanks to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and all those helpers for inspiring young people to care and think about how we can be better stewards of our ocean.

Kodiak team Squidoodly y scored 10th place overall. The total score is derived as follows:

60% Quiz Bowl (Kodiak scored 10th place)

20% research paper (Kodiak team scored 10th place)

20% presentation (Kodiak team scored 3rd place!!)

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