Five Juneau-Douglas High School students won the Alaska regional National Ocean Sciences Bowl with research about the Kensington Mine and good heads for oceanography facts. That and cramming at 5 in the morning.
A JDHS team has won the Alaska competition, held at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, every year but one since 1999. The exception was a year Juneau didn't compete.
Team Midas, composed of Ephraim Froehlich, Alida Bus, Robyn Grayson, Captain Ben Robinson and Bryan Diebels placed first in the competition overall, first in the categories of a 20-minute oral presentation and the oral quiz and second for its 20-page written report.
The regional competition was held Feb. 20-22. Team Midas will go on to the national competition, a Jeopardy-style oral quiz, April 24-26 in Charleston, S.C.
A second JDHS team, Steller, placed 12th of 14 teams. Team members were Bekah Menze, Kerri Powers, Ashley Kelly, Jenifer Stevenson and Donna Shelton.
The national competition is sponsored by the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education and the National Marine Educators Association. The Alaska regional competition is sponsored by the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, with support from the Alaska Sea Grant College Program.
This year, students were asked to research the effects of contaminants on Alaska's marine ecosystems.
Team Midas studied the options for disposing of tailings, the crushed rock that results from mining, at the proposed Kensington Mine near Berners Bay north of Juneau. Mine owner Coeur Alaska, which is awaiting government approval of its latest operating plan, originally planned to dump the tailings in Lynn Canal, but now wants to place them in Slate Lake.
Alaska is the lone region to require research papers and presentations, although it's the most educational part of the competition.
"Students say the project is the real payoff," said JDHS oceanography teacher Clay Good, who coaches the school's teams. "That's the skills they can use. Not many people are going to go to their desk and push buzzers."
Good said Team Midas' paper and presentation were the most professional he's seen at the ocean sciences bowl. He helps the teams prepare by having them make a preliminary presentation to local scientists.
Students began by looking at the mine's original environmental impact statement but then interviewed mine officials, environmentalists and government scientists.
"They talked to more professionals than I have ever seen students do for a project," Good said.
"It was hard to get a feel for what the whole project was about without talking to experts," said Grayson, a senior. "We had to come up with a plan, our method of solving the contaminant problem."
The students decided that dumping the tailings in Lynn Canal was safer for the environment than in Slate Lake. The changes to the canal would be temporary, and the marine organisms would reclaim the area, they concluded. But wetlands and old-growth forest near Slate Lake would be irreparably damaged, Grayson said.
Team Steller, named after 18th-century naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, prepared its report on persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic. Pollutants such as pesticides travel in the air, get into water, affect plants and are consumed by animals and eventually people.
"They get into the air and water and they move up the poles," said Menze, a junior.
"It seemed really interesting because it affected marine life and humans," said Powers, a senior. "Actually, throughout the whole world it's a problem."
Team Steller students said they derived most of their information from Oceana, which describes itself as an international advocacy conservation group. It has an office in Juneau.
The students also reviewed the Web site for the Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants, ratified recently to ban the use of certain pollutants.
Students said it's hard to prepare for the quiz portion of the competition, worth half the points. They read oceanography textbooks and study sample questions.
"It's fun because you learn a lot doing the quiz portion, because they tell you the answer if you're wrong," Powers said.
Grayson, preparing for the event, made a bet she could read an oceanography text in 10 days and won the bet.
"Science geek, science geek," Powers said.
"I really like science," Grayson said. "It's something, especially in Juneau as far as oceanography goes, that affects all of us on a day-to-day basis."
The JDHS teams were sponsored by Coeur Alaska and Oceana.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.