Summer science camp connects Petersburg students to their environment

Nine middle school students recently participated in a week-long summer science camp in Petersburg focused on science-related activities and careers. The program was organized by the Alaska Sea Grant in partnership with the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). Avery Herrman-Sakamoto, an Alaska Sea Grant Community Engaged Intern, worked with Sunny Rice, Alaska Sea Grant’s Petersburg Marine Advisory Program agent, to lead this summer’s camp.

group of students with their instructors smiling in front of water with tree lined mountain behind

“A Petersburg middle school student thinking about a future career might only consider the most visible professions in town—commercial fishing and processing, working at the school or hospital, or running one of the small businesses downtown,” noted Rice. “While these are great opportunities, there are others that most kids don’t see, jobs that involve science and include working outside in the unique environment in which they live. Alaska Sea Grant is working to expose these kids at this crucial age to a variety of local science professions, while they learn about Southeast Alaska’s rainforest ecosystem—and have a lot of fun while they’re at it.”

Throughout the week, students participated in enriching activities incorporating marine biology, ecology, geology, environmental management and conservation. Each day provided an opportunity to learn something new about science. 

By the end of the week, the students had met with 15 local scientists, measured 50 water samples from various environmental sources, identified 24 intertidal organisms, learned to count crab spines, and emptied their rainboots of water countless times. 

“In their end-of-camp feedback, students highlighted several favorite learning activities, including understanding stream morphology, testing water parameters, learning survival skills, and trapping salmon fry and crabs,” added Rice.

Highlights from each day of the program are provided below.

Monday was spent at the local library learning about field and bear safety; methods for collecting data on water such as salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and temperature; and conducting edible experiments using sandwiches and graham crackers to understand the tumultuous geology of the region. 

Tuesday involved a hike up a local salmon creek with US Forest Service (USFS) fisheries biologists and hydrologists to trap minnows and understand how stream morphology impacts salmon and trout. 

On Wednesday, campers helped monitor for invasive European green crab and learned about crab biology with tribal and state biologists, before aiding in vegetation mapping with USFS botanists and interns.

Thanks to a grant from the Alaska Community Foundation, the students were able to board local charter vessels on Thursday to visit LeConte Glacier, Alaska’s southernmost tidewater glacier. While at the fjord, students learned about the glacier’s life cycle, and why seals and seabirds choose to raise their young in the icy waters. They were also able to compare water samples taken in the fjord near the mouth of the glacier to those in nearby Frederick Sound.

Friday provided a low tide for exploring the intertidal zone and learning about Lingít fish traps, followed by a lesson in outdoor survival and a campout featuring a hunt for bats.

Smiling students and their instructor standing in front of a waterfall. They are standing on the back of a boat wearing life jackets.

Alaska Sea Grant and PMMC would like to acknowledge the support of Petersburg’s Public Library, Parks and Recreation, City Schools, and Search and Rescue, as well as USFS, Petersburg Indian Association, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, for helping to provide the kids a fun and educational week outdoors.

For more information about the summer science camp, contact Sunny Rice, Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program agent in Petersburg.

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