Summer programs introduce Southeast Alaska youth to careers in science

Marine Advisory agent, Sunny Rice, introduced youth in Kake and Petersburg to science through two collaborative projects in August. 

Kake wildlife experience

In partnership with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Scott Roberge, a colleague with the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center, Rice spent two days guiding participants in the Alaska Youth Stewards program on an overnight experience focused on marine mammals. 

Four kids looking over the bow of a metal boat
The 2022 Summer Science Camp in Petersburg included a marine mammal field trip on the water to look for whales and other wildlife. Photo courtesy Sunny Rice

The Alaska Youth Stewards program offers experiential education, on the job training, career counseling and job placement for rural Southeast Alaskans ages 16-25 and supports them on the path to higher education and employment in natural resource stewardship. The program brings together tribal governments, tribal corporations, conservation groups, federal and state agencies, not-for-profits, communities and individuals to deliver programs in Angoon, Hoonah, Kake and Prince of Wales Island. Rice started working with the program last year to deliver experiential education in marine science. 

This summer Rice and Roberge led a field trip from Kake to Frederick Sound where they traveled on a boat and observed sea lions and whales in their natural habitat, investigated a whale carcass on the beach, and explored the Five Finger lighthouse. The group stayed overnight on a nearby Island, where they practiced Leave No Trace camping principles. 

Over the course of the two-day excursion, the group had the chance to discuss topics in biology, anatomy, estimating population size, and evolution. In one lesson, the group collected deep water samples to investigate dissolved oxygen and consider the conditions marine life needs to survive. They also practiced using some of the tools the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center uses in disentangling whales. 

Summer Science Camp

In Petersburg, Rice led a five-day camp for middle school students focused on exploring field biology methods and learning about science-related careers in Southeast Alaska. With support from the Alaska Community Foundation, the Summer Science Camp is free to participants. The annual event is a partnership among Alaska Sea Grant and the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Petersburg Public Library, Petersburg City Schools, the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center, and the Mitkof Island salmon hatchery run by the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. 

Two people standing in a stream looking at a dissolved oxygen test strip
Eric Castro, a biologist with the Forest Service, look at the results from a test measuring dissolved oxygen in Ohmer Creek near Petersburg.

This summer nine kids participated in the camp. The campers took a boat trip from Petersburg to Frederick Sound to observe marine mammals, visited Blind Slough and Ohmer Creek to learn about freshwater biology, and hiked the Three Lakes Trail where they learned botany and wildlife biology. They also discovered nocturnal animals on one overnight camping experience, and got up early the next morning to explore the nearby intertidal zone. Activities included water quality testing, discussions about Dungeness crab, and examining mushrooms. 

“Each day has a different focus,” explained Rice. “One day it’s the marine environment. One day it’s freshwater. One day is terrestrially focused. One day we look at the intertidal zone. This year, the camp also had a water theme, so we explored how water is important in each of the different  environments.” 

Throughout the experience, scientists joined the group and shared what it’s like to do field work. For example, one activity involved the kids measuring dissolved oxygen in a backwater area of a stream that the Forest Service is currently working to rehabilitate. They compared levels of oxygen in this backwater area with the main stem of the same stream.

“The campers were able to see the difference between the kind of fish habitat in a fast-moving stream versus in a slower area of the creek” said Rice. “It’s a great experience for them to get outside and see what scientists are doing in their own backyards.”

A group of people poses for a photo in front of some large rocks on the coast near Petersburg, Alaska
Nine middle school students participated in the 2022 Summer Science Camp led by Sunny Rice with help from intern Avery Herman-Sakamoto. Photo courtesy Sunny Rice/Alaska Sea Grant