Matthew Hansen,9; Kirana Sanjoy,9; and Katie Reiser,11 showing their jellyfish mobile made out of marine debris.

A 9-year-old participant of the inaugural Ocean Science Discovery and Marine Stewardship Camp had his artwork stolen Monday as his rainbow-painted wooden fish was drying on a bench outside the Ocean Science Discovery Lab at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center.

The artist, Matthew Hansen, said he felt like “giving a slow head shake to whoever” stole his artwork. After the police were notified, the fish was eventually returned and added to the other pieces of art created at the eight-day camp, where 12 campers ages eight to 13 created projects about issues facing the world’s oceans. 

From observing worms under a microscope, to creating jellyfish art out of ocean debris, playing musical instruments made out of kelp and wildlife viewing on a charter boat, the young campers were empowered through education, to voice their opinions on how to solve the challenges facing the ocean and environment, said camp founder Switgard Duesterloh. 

“We believe that kids have a voice. When they speak up, adults listen. We want to empower these kids to say what they think is the right thing to do,” said Duesterloh, referring to the camp’s motto and mission. 

Many of the students spoke about the excitement of riding on a charter boat and viewing nature up close. 

“I was surprised that those plastics were just floating and not sinking,” said 11-year-old Katie Reiser, about what she saw during her boat charter adventure. “It made me feel sad because all those animals can die because of how long it takes (for the plastic) to degrade. I think that if people saw (plastic) on beaches or coastal line that they should try to pick it up.”

The participants were separated into three groups with each group working on a different project. 

One group recreated the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and clean-up efforts, constructing a vessel out of tin foil, a boom out of straws and oil out of vegetable oil and oil-based black paint. They captured the recreated event in video format using a plastic pool, rocks and plastic marine animals as the ocean scenery. 

Another group created a mobile out of marine debris, constructing thumb-sized jellyfish out of bottle caps, fishing wire, and what looked like the base of a black, plastic milk crate.

One member of the jellyfish mobile group loved the charter boat adventure the most. 

“I liked being on the boat, because we got splashed by water and we got to see puffins,” 9-year-old Kirana Sanjoy said. It was her first time seeing puffins in-person.   

The third group painted rocks to sell at their lemonade stand at the farmer’s market to raise money for the community garden. They also made a detailed poster about how climate change affects animals and wildlife, said 8-year-old Huxley Williams. 

It is important to raise money for the community garden “because all the planes and ships that (come) here to give us food that isn’t grown in Kodiak, take a lot of Co2,” one of the group members said. “So, if we raise money, (the Kodiak Community Garden) can get more seeds and more space and more plants to grow.” 

Many aspects of the camp are turned into lessons, even the snacks prepared by the camp’s four instructors, said Duesterloh, who also works for Island Trails Network, and as a naturalist for the Kodiak Island Charter. 

 “We provide (snacks with) a lot of homegrown and local foods,” she said. 

Buying in bulk and locally allowed for “climate change and local foods (to) come into discussion. We buy all the food in bulk so we don’t produce as much trash,” Duesterloh said. 

Though, with each year there is less money to run programs, said Duesterloh. Therefore, she has been looking for funding to keep this camp and other educational initiatives afloat, she said. 

In presenting their projects, the camp participants proved to know the current reality of the issues facing the environment and the long-term effects of pollution and climate change. 

“I feel that how much trash we are putting into the ocean, its really bad for (the animals),” said 9-year-old Lilly Gilmour, a member of the oil spill group. “It’s not good for their life cycle. We are killing them, and the oil stays in the ocean for a long, long time.”


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