Alaskan Youth Stewards in the Park

AYS Students work at the tribal house and conduct oceanography survey in Glacier Bay

The Alaskan Youth Stewards program (AYS, formerly known as TRAYLS), returned for another season! This year the five-person crew consists of Jermaine Johnson, Kelly St. Clair, Leif Gray, Susan Bradford and Ted Elliott. In the second week of the field season, the team took a trip to Glacier Bay National Park to visit the tribal house and help conduct an oceanography survey with the National Park Service.

Craig Murdoch, the NPS fisheries biologist in charge of running the survey, says it’s like taking the blood pressure of the park. Every month, he travels to the same places in the bay to deploy a set of sensors to monitor temperature, conductivity, density and the amount of light reaching through the water. The students were surprised by how much the equipment cost–and that all that was keeping 40,000 dollars from sinking to the bottom of the ocean was a “thin rope.” For July’s survey, Craig was doing an exploratory study to figure out how much the water properties change a short distance away from the regular monitoring points. While the changes that occur as one travels up the bay are fairly well documented, he never looked into variations that occur side to side along the established route. While initial results indicate that there isn’t a huge degree of variability from east to west across the west arm of the bay, the next steps for the study will be to conduct transects across the bay, and to include the east arm in the range covered. 

While tidewater glaciers are always more dynamically active than their land-exclusive counterparts, their direct interactions with the ocean and the fine line between terminating on the land and in the sea makes them more susceptible to some of the effects of climate change. The waters of Glacier Bay are rich in nutrients that are provided and mixed by the glacial meltwater, but as the glaciers transition from tidewater to terrestrial, they no longer feed the ocean in the same way, which is likely to reduce the productivity of the waters. In the fifteen years he’s worked at the park, Craig has already noticed drastic changes in the size of several of the glaciers, and that trend will continue to accelerate as the planet warms and the glaciers retreat. The data he collects will allow the NPS to keep an eye on phytoplankton levels. At the lowest level of the food chain, phytoplankton serve as an early warning for species higher up on the ladder as well as the living conditions for fish and marine mammals.

In the ten hours on the water, the students marveled at the diversity of animals not found in Hoonah and got first-hand experience deploying the sensors and collecting data. For small-engines mechanic Ted Elliott, operating the hydraulic winch was a familiar process–and one he instantly had a few ideas on how to improve. Susan Bradford was more interested in the animals, and spent the day photographing puffins, sea lions and baby mountain goats. She said her favorite part was the sea lion haul out and seeing “how they behaved in their natural habitat, and to see them thriving”. All the students took turns driving the boat, operating the winch, running out the ropes and taking down the data, a rare and unique opportunity that most students around the world never get the chance to participate in.

The AYS crew also had the opportunity to visit the tribal house (Xúnaa Shuká Hít) in Bartlett Cove and speak with Darlene See and Melissa Senac, the Tribal House Coordinators with HIA and NPS respectively, along with Mary Beth Moss, Tribal Liaison with the park. The crew learned about the significant collaboration between the NPS and Hoonah, the stories behind the totem poles, and how they, as young leaders can carry on the work being done in Homeland. They heard stories of how their ancestors were pushed out by the advancing glaciers, their return to Sít’ Eeti Gheeyi, and how relations between the NPS and Huna Tlingit have changed over the years. Ted said he learned a lot “about why we moved to Chichagof Island, and how multiple tribes soon then came together to help each other out”. “Culture is strong there,” added Susan. To symbolically mark the collaboration between both groups, river rocks were brought from Hoonah and placed around the bases of all three totem poles. Future visitors are encouraged to find small rocks in the park to place within the marked perimeter to show support for the tribal house.

The crew had a busy summer, full of harvesting, monitoring invasive species, stream restoration work and more. Keep an eye out for more stories about their work, and check out the map of their adventures here!

1 Comment

  1. This report made me smile!! What great hands-on experiences!
    I love Glacier Bay! I commercial fished there and was the 1st cultural interpreter on the “day boat”. Back when the ice drove us out of Glacier Bay, Wooshkeetaan settled in Excursion Inlet, Kaagwaantaan Ground Hog Bay on the mainland in Icy Strait, Chookeneidi finally settled in Port Frederick Hoonah Townsite. The government school centralized all three family groups in Hoonah.

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