I am writing in support of the mission of the Sitka Sound Science Center, which is to maintain the Sheldon Jackson hatchery, develop a public outreach program and conduct marine research.
I am a 2003 graduate of Sheldon Jackson College. While I was a senior at SJC, I developed and undertook a study of marine debris deposition on Sitka Sound beaches, which resulted in collaboration with the Ocean Conservancy to address the issue of solid waste in the Gulf of Alaska.
In 2005, I was accepted for postgraduate study in the Marine Science Department at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and while I was there, I developed a study using biomarkers to investigate point-source pollution in Otago Harbor. I also have developed a proposal to investigate point-source pollution in Cook Inlet.
Having matriculated from SJC, I was fully aware of the financial dilemmas that the college was faced with year after year. I recall one particular morning in Otago when I was on my way to the university laboratory for a day of fieldwork in the harbor. The head of the marine science department announced that we would be using the university's research vessel Munida for the last time, and my first reaction was that the boat was being sold to pay off debt. I asked the department head if the university was running out of money. This comment elicited much laughter from my colleagues, and I was assured that the university was purchasing a much larger research vessel to take the Munida's place.
Shortly after my return from New Zealand, I met with a faculty member in the environmental science department at SJC to discuss a collaborative union between the University of Otago and the college regarding my proposal. Three days after that discussion, the board of trustees announced its intent to suspend operations. This announcement was especially unfortunate because it closed the door on a generous grant from the National Science Foundation that would have renovated the Sage building, as well as an opportunity for a collaborative research grant offered by the NSF that would have funded my study.
There are antipodal similarities between Sitka and Otago. Two main oceanographic areas of research for students entering the marine science department at the University of Otago are Fiordland on the South Island and the Antarctic research program. The university operates the Portobello laboratory in Otago Harbour, which is its base of operations, and draws a large contingent of international students.
During my year of graduate study, I was exposed to numerous visiting lecturers and researchers from around the world, one of whom was considering Juneau as a base of operations for her research in the Arctic Ocean. Many students remain in New Zealand and go on to work for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, (analogous to NOAA), as well as the Department of Conservation.
NOAA fisheries biologist and former SJC lecturer Dr. Keith Cox has stated that the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska are the focus of marine research in Alaska. There is a growing need for research on marine debris, marine mammal entanglement, climate change and population dynamics in the ocean, and as Cox has emphasized, Sitka is a prime entry point for scientists to gain access to the Gulf of Alaska. The Sage building on the SJC campus, although in need of renovation, has adequate facilities to conduct research.
A marine research facility in Sitka could draw organizations such as the Alagalita Marine Institute and the Hawaiian Marine Mammal Entanglement Network, not to mention national and international students who could develop masters and ph.D. theses, collaborate with other universities, and conduct postdoctoral research that could address issues that are important to Alaska. Many of my colleagues at Otago have expressed a desire to work in Alaska and have queried me about research opportunities in the north Pacific.
With a slowly shrinking population, Sitka should focus on the potential of its geographic location as it pertains to scientific research in order to enhance its future. At the Sheldon Jackson College campus, the opportunity exists to facilitate a world-class scientific research facility that meets the mission statement of the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Lynn Wilbur has a Bachelor of Science in environmental science with emphasis in marine biology, and a postgraduate diploma in marine science. She has completed her post graduate course work and developed a study in order to earn a Master of Science in marine science at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
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