This June, nine middle school students from across Alaska spent eight days aboard the Babkin Marine Research Vessel in Prince William Sound. The students engaged in hands-on learning about a range of topics including oceanography, plant ecology, fisheries and issues facing the Sound such as lingering oil from the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill and coastal accumulation of marine debris. Three trip leaders led the students in their exploration of these topics – Loretta Brown from the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, Kate Morse from the Copper River Watershed Project in Cordova, and Pete Johnson, Forest Ecologist for the Chugach National Forest.
The students hiked into the Chugach National Forest from the coast to explore plant ecology. They also visited a fish hatchery, and went kayaking, tide pooling and fishing. The students dug up traces of oil from the now 25-year-old Exxon-Valdez oil spill, helped pick up marine debris, and assisted the Forest Service with river otter research. Throughout the trip the students documented their experiences with journals, recorders, and video cameras.
Even with that packed schedule, the students found time to work hard on individual research projects such as a Prince William Sound plant community diagram and a video about the negative impacts of marine debris on the ocean ecosystem (Click here to watch the video, “Catch Fish Not Plastic”).
While some participants came from communities adjacent to Prince William Sound like Valdez, Tatitlek, Whittier, and Cordova, and others came from further distances like Anchorage, Eagle River, and Kodiak, all participants learned new things about the ecology and history of the Sound. Their environmental awareness grew, but also their connection to a sense of place, their appreciation for the natural beauty of Alaska’s wild places, and their dedication to preserving these landscapes.
Despite their geographic diversity, the students formed a cohesive bond. They worked well as a group and expressed how cool it was to meet other kids from across Alaska who may live in the same state, but experience very different lifestyles depending on their location and geography.
The students created “stewardship cords” throughout the week by collecting small tokens from the landscape to represent the topics they learned about, the places they visited, and special moments they experienced. At the end of each day, students would distribute “gratitude beads” to other participants on the trip who had done something nice for them that day and they would add them to their cords. The students brought these home with them, excited to have something to show friends and family, and something to serve as a reminder of the lessons they learned.
Pete Johnson explained that the Babkin Marine Stewardship Expedition is a special trip because the middle school students are at such an inquisitive age. The world is opening up for them and they’re starting to explore and define their interests and passions. The youth get the opportunity to meet a range of outdoor professionals who are dedicated to the environment and who have a variety of interesting positions. The hope is that it sparks interests or passions for the youth, or simply plants the seeds of a lifelong commitment to stewardship. The next step for these Babkin alum could be a Chugach Children’s Forest Habitat Restoration Kayak Expedition!
These expeditions were made possible by the hard work of our students and support of their families, as well as significant contributions from partners, primarily the Chugach National Forest, Prince William Sound Resource Advisory Committee, Chugach School District, PWSRCAC, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Gulf of Alaska Keepers, EVOS Trustees Council, Copper River Watershed Project, and REI!