In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 2:45 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2012


In our own backyard

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Clearing the waters Colton Anderson displays two jars of silty water treated with a flocculant, a biodegradeable substance that attracts particles.

If you think something like the Kachemak Bay Science Conference is a stuffy, boring convention of people talking about topics like "investigations on degenerative myopathy in Pacific halibut," think again. OK, that's the title of one presentation, but the subtitle makes the subject understandable — "mushy halibut syndrome."

Expect lots of such translations of complex scientific language starting today with the sixth such conference, held every three years. In fact, the conference starts with an afternoon communication workshop from 1 to 5 p.m. today on "Making Your Science Matter." Nancy Baron, author of "Escape from the Ivory Tower," starts out the afternoon talks. Journalists and scientists will speak on "Bridging the Worlds of Science and Journalism," "Thinking Story Like a Journalist" and other topics.

"We want this to be accessible and interesting to our community," said Megan Murphy, coordinator of the Coastal Training Program for Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, one of the conference sponsors. "To help build those relationships of the context where scientists and local media are coming from so we can better build those bridges."

The conference runs today through Saturday at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Attendance and registration is free, but the first 100 who register online get a free jump drive with the conference materials loaded on it.


Photo provided

Scientists do intertidal sampling at a Kachemak Bay beach.

This year's theme is "Healthy Bay = Vibrant Communities." The idea comes from the Mobilizing for Action Through Planning and Partnership, or MAPP, program that described nine areas of vision for a better community. The conference focuses on one of those visions, the idea that humans are part of the ecosystem.

"Collectively we feed off the health of the bay and we participate in the health of the bay," Murphy said.

The conference has three sessions: observing, managing and sustaining. The sustaining session, held Saturday afternoon, "highlights conservation and partnering efforts to pull those things together," Murphy said.

In the observing session, presenters look at things like ocean acidification and its effect on crabs, sea and land level changes, and abnormalities in wood frogs. The managing session discusses topics like the Tanner crab fishery status, developing oyster spat farms and explanations for wetlands drying on the northern Kenai Peninsula.

Presenters are not only research scientists from academia, but natural resource managers, citizen scientists, oyster farmers and even explorers.

One late addition to the schedule is a talk by Peter Murphy, a marine debris specialist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, who will talk about the possible effects of marine debris from the Japanese tsunami last year. That and the talk on wood frogs, who show trace amounts of metals from China, show how effects on Kachemak Bay can come from afar.

"We're not isolated. We're connected," Murphy said.

Showing those connections and keeping citizens informed of the science, management and research being done is the goal of the science conference.

"It's an avenue for the community to hear about the efforts going on in the science community of the Kenai Peninsula," she said. "This is the best one-stop shop to see what's going on around here for research and efforts to better understand our ecosystem."

Baron also holds a keynote address, "Being an Agent of Change: Are the Risks Worth the Rewards?" today at 7 p.m., with a book signing and reception from 6 to 7 p.m. At 7 p.m. Friday, Anne Salomon and Nick Tanape Sr. present "Human-Ocean Ecosystems: Balancing the Needs of People and Nature." Salomon, Tanape and Henry Huntington also wrote "Imam Cimiucia: Our Changing Sea," and will have a reception and book signing from 6 to 7 pm. Friday.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at