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Juneau team wins big at National Ocean Science Bowl

Posted: May 4, 2011 - 7:33pm  |  Updated: May 4, 2011 - 7:46pm
Team captain Tyler Houseweart, left, Sam Kurland, Martina Miller, Elise Christey, coach Ben Carney and Seth Brickey at the Tsunami Bowl in February. The team won the Tsunami Bowl and won a trip to the national tournament in Texas. They won top spot in the policy briefing category at nationals.    Hank Pennington / For the Juneau Empire
Hank Pennington / For the Juneau Empire
Team captain Tyler Houseweart, left, Sam Kurland, Martina Miller, Elise Christey, coach Ben Carney and Seth Brickey at the Tsunami Bowl in February. The team won the Tsunami Bowl and won a trip to the national tournament in Texas. They won top spot in the policy briefing category at nationals.

The Juneau-Douglas High School National Ocean Sciences Bowl team took top place in a new category for the competition this year.

The team is coming back from the national competition in Texas today.

The JDHS team Absolute Vorticity took first place at the Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl in February in Seward, winning an expense-paid trip to the national competition in Galveston, Texas.

Team captain Tyler Houseweart, members Seth Brickey, Martina Miller, Elise Christey, Sam Kurland and coach Ben Carney left Juneau April 28, with the National Ocean Sciences Bowl starting on April 29.

Carney said the first consisted of six field trips students could sign up for, including a kayaking trip on which students took water samples and studied wildlife.

Saturday was the most intensive day with the competitions. The competition included a buzzer-style quiz bowl and critical-thinking challenge questions. JDHS made it to the double-elimination round on Saturday night, and ended in a three-way tie for 9th place. Twenty-four teams across the United States participated.

New this year was an extensive competition called Policy Briefing.

“It works by essentially the kids were expected to review a number of different pieces of legislation that went before the Congress in previous years,” Carney said. “They were assigned the task of securing five different testimonies for five different stakeholders and they also drafted up a team recommendation as well.”

The students could choose between five pieces of legislation for the 111th Congress on aquaculture (farming of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions). They chose HR 4363, a bill introduced for the Sustainable Aquaculture Act of 2009. It called for the Secretary of Commerce to create an Office of Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture and sought to establish permitting regulations for offshore aquaculture.

Students were to take on the role of representatives of different entities: federal government, state agency, aquaculture industry, scientists and non-governmental. The team also had to provide a collective view on what they would recommend Congress do.

They had to give an 11 minute presentation on the bill, viewpoints of the stakeholders and their group recommendation.

Carney said Houseweart chose the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Miller chose the State of Alaska, Brickey chose the aquaculture industry, Kurland was the academic and research scientist and Christey chose the non-governmental agency Oceana.

Carney said they spoke to all sorts of different people and through the interviews, the students formed their own opinion on the position those entities would take.

Students spoke with the Juneau legislative delegation, Sen. Mark Begich, University of Alaska Fairbanks Marine Advisory Program agents and others in non-governmental groups and people involved in the industry.

“They chose HR 4363, because it’s a huge one with big ramifications for the state of Alaska,” Carney said.

The work and presentations by the team resulted in taking home the recognition of the first-ever champions of the category. The team will receive a paid three-day trip to Washington and Oregon to meet with people involved in the West Coast shellfish industry.

“I think they did extremely well I’m very proud of these guys,” he said. “Everything they did was of very high quality.”

The team members were pleased with how they’d done as well.

“I felt the competition was superb,” Kurland said. “We performed beyond our expectations which is always a thrill. National Ocean Sciences Bowl is a great competition.”

Kurland appreciated the new policy briefing portion.

“That was something unlike other things I have been involved in before,” he said. “... We all learned a lot by being a part of that. We spoke with the Juneau delegation for Alaska Legislature. Those meetings in and of themselves were really eye opening with the science and policy aspects.”

Kurland said the competition is a big deal for students.

“We spend a lot of time preparing for this,” he said. “We have a fun time and we do learn a lot. That’s a very important part. The education, no matter who wins, we’ve all learned a lot and that’s the most important thing.”

Houseweart said the regional competition required them to write a 20-page research paper, and believed that prepared them well for the policy briefing contest.

“I think it went really well,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Christey said this was her first year competing with the group — her last as a senior — and said it was a lot of fun.

“I think that we definitely surprised ourselves in how well it went for us, especially with the buzzer,” she said. “We expected to do pretty well in the marine policy event. We were not expecting to go as far in the buzzer as we did.”

That’s because the group spent more time preparing for the policy portion than the buzzer-rounds due to time available, Carney said.

“I would say that it’s a rewarding experience for not only our education and meeting the people and enjoying the learning experience,” Christey said. “More people should be involved for sure.”

UAF research Associate Professor of Biology Oceanography Dean Stockwell, who also served as a judge for the Tsunami Bowl, praised the Juneau team in a statement.

“I think that many people were blown away at how well the students from Alaska did in this event,” he said. “Their poise, maturity, work ethic and ability to orally communicate their policy was outstanding. This was truly an impressive effort.”

The students were in Houston Wednesday visiting the Science Museum and an aquarium.

“We’re taking the opportunity to take advantage of the educational opportunities here that aren’t available in other places,” he said.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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