homer otters

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Sea otters in Homer’s Kachemak Bay.

I just sent off an abstract to the Kodiak Area Marine Science Symposium (KAMSS). The abstract is for the high school Tsunami Bowl ocean science team to give locals a second chance to hear their research about what they think we should do to insure that the terrible die off of sea lions that happened in California in the last two years will not repeat itself and affect sea lions in Kodiak.

KAMSS will happen at the Kodiak Convention Center April 18-21. The idea behind KAMSS is to connect the local community to research that happens in Kodiak and environmental changes that may affect Kodiak. This year’s symposium will be the third such event sponsored by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

“Ecosystem disturbances” is the term scientists use to describe a series of unusual events observed in the ocean around us over the last years. There was the mass die-off of common murres that littered the beaches with the fragile bodies of dead birds. There were the over 40 dead whales, fin and humpbacks, which qualified for national news and were declared an unusual mortality event, a designation that under the marine mammal protection act requires scientific followup. In Homer sea otters died in higher numbers than usual, and most recently, there is the absence of sea stars. Temperature maps show unusually high temperatures along the coast and in the Gulf of Alaska.

To me it feels like the North Pacific is undergoing historical events and changes. If the falling of the Berlin Wall was an exciting time for historians, I feel like I am witnessing a similarly important time for oceanographers. I remember watching the news about the falling of the wall and it was not without apprehension and a little fear of what was going to come of it. I am not one to hang my head in the light of the environmental maledies that surround me, but I do not believe that we will emerge from the ocean changes with a list of good news to share. However, fear often comes from not knowing, and the symposium is designed to help us get informed and hear for ourselves what the experts have found out and what connections they can make.

There will be invited speakers from off-island, as well as local scientists and fisheries managers. There will be talks about the bigger picture of ecosystem disturbances and more focused talks about more specific topics and species of interest. There will also be time for the audience to chime in with questions and observations. The Tsunami Bowl ocean science team will not be the only team of student scientists who will share findings of their hard work with the community and gain the benefit of experience in presenting to a local, benevolent and extremely scary audience. I am looking forward to the medley of renown and established scientists and incoming young and innovative minds sharing what they believe to be important.

As most of us know, it is the nature of science that with every question answered there are many more questions that open up. In a time of information technology and budget cuts, one of the challenges is how best to maximize our efforts and share data. To find the connections between research from various disciplines, we need to listen to each other and reach out across the various groups with an interest or need in gaining local knowledge. Federal and state agencies, university researchers, native tribes, fishing industry, and environmentalist organizations have many answers to share and more questions to ask. Students and individuals living and observing what is occurring in the natural world have much to contribute to the conversations.

The ultimate goal of conventions like the KAMSS is to make new acquaintances to further research and find more answers to the most concerning questions of our time. It is in the amazing nature of humans to find solutions and to solve problems. Don’t miss it.

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