On The Clammin’ Grounds
On a mid-June morning the five members of Hoonah’s TRAYLS (Training Rural Alaska Youth Leaders and Students) crew walked onto the soft, muddy soil of the clamming grounds in Hoonah, Alaska. The sunshine seemed like a good omen for the work to come! Their goal over the next 4 days was to learn the protocols and methods to monitor shellfish populations and then complete surveys at 81 locations.
Shellfish population surveys (also called “biomass surveys”) can help us develop a baseline dataset of what exists there at a point of time. We use that baseline dataset to compare to in future studies. Here’s an example of that in your cupboard – you check to see how much flour you have in your pantry. The next time you check you’ll know if you have more or less flour. A baseline dataset of shellfish population is key to helping us keep track of our resources.
Jeromy Grant, Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) Environmental Assistant explained why this work is important. “With the toxic shellfish monitoring that we do now the community can dig year around by taking advantage of that monitoring… we know people are extending their digging season and that may put pressure on shellfish populations”, he stated, “this will benefit the community by giving us an accurate count of whats out here.” This program is also important because of the youth development opportunities. “Their [TRAYLS] resume building will be huge out here.. they’ll be learning survey methods and scientific tool usage”, Jeromy said. That is certainly true as each of the TRAYLS crew learned news skills in shellfish ID and each participated in all parts of the survey.
TRAYLS is a youth devlopment program funded by Bureau of Indian Affairs, Student Conservation Association, the U.S. Forest Service, and other entities. Its goal is to hire local youth and train them in skills for future careers. There are four TRAYLS crews operating throughout Southeast Alaska and each are tailored to a certain need. In Hoonah, the participants will have opportunities to learn stream, forest, and ocean ecology, maintain recreation sites, do fisheries work, participate in Hoonah Culture camp, and collect resources for the upcoming traditional food fair in Hoonah. These shellfish surveys are the beginning of a long summer of work.
TRAYLS Crew Gets Muddy and Learns Some Skills
The TRAYLS crew all agreed that learning shellfish identification was a very useful skill. Leader Rebekah Sawers and crew members Nicholas Truetel-Jacobsen and Ashlyn Gray echoed that sentiment. Seeing it in the broader context, Nicholas had this to say about the broader effort “[I learned] How shellfish play an important part in the ecosystem. I will be using most of the shore ecology if I ever become a marine biologist.” It is inspiring to see these youth out doing work, connecting with the land, and seeing how this work can fit into larger life goals!
When asked what the best experience of the summer so far Dawson Hollingsworth echoed the usefulness of the skills learned during the surveys, “[I found the most interesting thing to be]Shellfish biomass surveys because it was outside, I got to work hard, and I got to learn the basis of conducting a scientific study. This was my first time doing a study like that. It was just fun to rake them up!”. As an aspiring biochemist Dawson made sure to add that he enjoyed learning “How to improvise!” and “How to use science equipment.” during the surveys.
Some Fieldwork Pains
Not all was fun-and-games during the survey. The sunny hot day brought out one of the most feared parasites of Southeast Alaska – the no-see-um. The winged beasts were a constant pestilence that forced the crew to put up hoods and don bug nets in an effort to stay sane.
The Future Generation and the Future of the Work
There are immediate and longterm next-steps for this work. In the shorterm, Jeromy Grant explained, “This data will be sent to SEATOR and will be put into a mapping programming to give a visual map of the biomass [populations]”. SEATOR is a tribal partnership that has given Southeast Tribes capacity to monitor their shellfish populations for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. They have extended into broader training for tribes such as these population surveys. In the longterm, Jeromy says that HIA will monitor the site yearly and that the dataset will help the community monitor its resources from changes in climate, the ocean, and digging pressure. We hope that TRAYLS and the community will be part of these surveys in the years to come.
Sam Sheakley is hoping to continue this work in the future.