Petersburg Pilot: Summer science camp introduces kids to scientific careers in the community

Brian Varela / Petersburg Pilot

Story by Brian Varela, reprinted with permission from Petersburg Pilot

Gina Esposito explains how the rocks used in the fish traps on Sandy Beach were positioned to trap fish as the tide recedes.

The Petersburg Marine Mammal Center is hosting a summer science camp this week to expose middle school aged kids to the scientific jobs available in the community.

“We’re excited,” said Sunny Rice, Petersburg Marine Mammal Center board member and marine advisory agent with the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences/Alaska Sea Grant. “It’ll be fun. It’s always lots fun. Lots of energy. It’s good to expose them to things they might want to do later on in life.”

Although, the summer camp is funded by the PMMC, other organizations in the community make donations of time or resources, said Rice. The school district donated a bus for the camp to transport the kids all over Mitkof Island. A space for the kids to work in and listen to presentations was given to the summer camp by the Petersburg Community Center for the week. Individuals from organizations on the island volunteered their time to speak with the kids, such as the US Forest Service, Petersburg Search and Rescue, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Crystal Lake Hatchery.

“A big part of that is the career exposure to science careers,” said Rice. “We’re trying to get people from our various agencies in different roles. It’s more fun for the kids to hear from different people, instead of just us.”

This is the second summer that the PMMC has hosted a summer science camp. Last year, the camp had five openings, with four kids participating. The number of openings was increased to 10 this year. All ten spots were filled.

Throughout the week, each day focuses on a theme, such as intertidal and freshwater ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems and marine ecosystems, said PMMC volunteer Kelly Bakos.

“It’s not just basic science,” said Kelly Bakos. “We actually dig into some things. They’re old enough to be able to handle those concepts. It’s in a fun way where they’re learning these concepts that maybe even university students would be learning.”

On Monday, Toby Bakos, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service, demonstrated bear safety for the kids because they’ll be hiking quite a bit this week, said Rice. Captain of Search and Rescue Patrick Fowler helped the kids make a survival kit and taught them how not to get lost and what to do if they did.

The kids in the summer camp also made nature journals to keep notes, observations, sketches and plant pressings.

Tuesday morning was spent at Hungry Point with Amy Jo Lindsley, from the ADF&G, and Barry Bracken, with PMMC, identifying marine life and vertebrates in intertidal areas. It allowed the kids to keep detailed records of their findings in their nature journals. The group also went out to Sandy Beach with Bracken and Gina Esposito, an archeologist with the USFS and saw the fish traps and petroglyphs.

The manager of the Crystal Lake Hatchery, Loren Thompson, also gave the group a tour of the Hatchery. Eric Castro, from the USFS, measured minnows and checked minnow traps for the group and described stream habitats.

Since the kids are at an age where they’re becoming independent, the PMMC wanted to get them out camping without their parents, said Rice. The group spent the night at Green’s Camp and set up their own camp, assisted by the president of PMMC, Don Holmes, and searched for signs of nocturnal life.

The PMMC wants the kids to learn how to keep a good camp site and learn good camping techniques. On the Wednesday morning after their overnight trip to Green’s Camp, the kids received a Leave No Trace presentation from Carin Christensen, who is with the USFS. The group learned responsible camping techniques and how to “leave no trace” behind when clearing a campsite.

Brian Varela / Petersburg Pilot

From left to right, Amy Jo Lindsley, Bryana Ratliff, Colton May and Isaac Litster identify organisms that they found on the beach. May holds a crab he found.

For the majority of Wednesday, the group spent the day hiking the Three Lakes Trail exploring the forests and muskegs. Along the hike, Toby Bakos and Joni Johnson, who is with the USFS, taught the group how to track and identify wildlife, how to take scientific sampling techniques for wildlife and their habit and about the different plants and their uses. Toby Bakos focused on terrestrial wildlife and Johnson on plants, said Sunny.

Thursday, the group will go whale watching and document whale flukes with Scott Roberge, of Tongass Kayak Adventures and Kelly Bakos and with Holmes on his boat. The kids will also use telemetry tracking to track a buoy.

On the summer science camp’s final day, Friday, the kids will meet in the community center and try to match the whale flukes from the day before in a catalog to identify specific whales. They will also decorate shirts with materials collected throughout the week. The group will wrap up by giving presentations of their time spent at the summer science camp to their parents.

“We want to introduce middle school aged kids to a whole bunch of different things, including how exciting and fun science is,” said Rice.

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