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Marine Salmon Interactions Program

Southeast Coastal Monitoring Project Outreach Yields Mutual Benefit

In this era of increasing competition for funding sources, many research programs look for efficient and creative means of supporting their projects. The Southeast Coastal Monitoring (SECM) project, which was initiated by ABL's Marine Salmon Interactions program in 1997, has conducted seasonal trawling and oceanographic work related to juvenile salmon ecology in northern Southeast Alaska for the past 13 years. With just four staff scientists in the SECM project and at least four annual surveys needing four people each, SECM has relied on outside help to maintain the long-term data collection.

Over the years, field work has been supported by a wide variety of participants, including university students, professors, researchers, high school marine science students, public school teacher volunteers, visiting foreign scientists, NOAA staff from other programs and facilities, contractors, Alaska Department of Fish & Game employees, private non-profit hatchery staff, and NOAA and other program interns. These participants have been much appreciated for their contributions. These external staffing opportunities also have had impact as NOAA-supported outreach activities.

Outreach activities are designed to provide educational opportunities involving NOAA science, and participating in field work is only one example. In 2009, Libby Parker, a student attending Dartmouth College, returned to her hometown of Juneau to work as a summer laboratory intern for the ABL Habitat Program. She had not yet settled on a college major, but wanted science experience. An opportunity to participate on an SECM survey as part of her internship became a life-changing experience. Here is an excerpt from her enthusiastic report of the experience:

"...My next foray into the Southeast Alaskan wilderness came in the form of a juvenile salmon survey with three of the most engaging and inspiring biologists. With one week to collect samples for water chemistry, oceanography, and salmon studies the learning curve was steep, and we were kept busy.

Coached by my three mentors and encouraged by their contagious enthusiasm and curiosity, I learned how to identify different jellyfish and juvenile salmon species, dissect fish and determine the contents of their stomachs, perform plankton tows, send down CTD casts, and prepare a wide variety of samples for analysis in the lab. From sunup to sundown I was engaged in stimulating conversation and put in situations that required constant vigilance and quick thinking.

I learned to love the dusty sheen of fish scales and to find the delicate beauty in stinging jellyfish tentacles. Upon returning to bio lab 208 [at ABL], dismayed to be back on firm ground, [Robert] was quick to tell me that the key to an excellent field experience lies in the group dynamics and how the beauty of a polished, smooth-working crew is not something to be taken for granted."

And the impact of that outreach activity? Libby went on to declare her major in Marine Ecology.

By Molly Sturdevant and Libby Parker


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