The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Ocean science buffs to compete


Alaska high schools from Ketchikan to Scammon Bay, fielding 18 teams from 15 different schools will be in Seward for the 17th annual Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl, a regional competition on topics related to the study of oceans. The competition begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday, March 2. Many of the events, such as the Quiz bowls, oral presentations and guest speaker are at Seward High School and open to the public.

A couple of hundred students, coaches and supporters will stay at The Breeze Inn, and explore places around town like the Alaska SeaLife Center, said Phyllis Shoemaker, NOSB host. Residents planning to eat out at noon Friday should be aware that they will be loose on the town for lunch at that time. Around 100 additional volunteers also help out at this major event in a variety of ways.

Seward High School is fielding the “Fatheads” this year, a name that doesn’t refer to the students, but rather to a certain type of minnow baitfish, in keeping with the super science-nerdy names typical of teams participating in the competition. It’s a very young team this year, made up entirely of rookies, so it should be a good learning experience for them, Shoemaker said.

Team members include SHS freshman Roma Hamner and sophomores Allie Katsma, Alex Estes and Joevahnta Weddington, the team captain. Their coach is Shoshannah Brasher, who teaches chemistry, physical science and math at the school, all of which are useful in handling the tough questions asked in the intense Quiz bowl sections.

“I think everybody is kind of excited to see what it’s all about, and have fun at the same time. I’m hoping it will be a good experience for everybody,” said Brasher. That said, she admitted that their preparation time as a team was limited by the other activities and events they took part in.

“We have really involved kids,” she said. Allie and Joevahnta also participate on the Debate Drama and Forensics team, which recently completed its own statewide tournament, and Alex plays basketball.

“The competition and related activities encourage students to continue to study fisheries and marine science during their postsecondary education, and to consider a career in a marine-related occupation,” Shoemaker said. The benefits include experience and recognition in public speaking, research, and extra-curricular study in fields such as math, chemistry, biology and marine science. It also provides students the opportunity to work closely with professionals in the marine sciences and fisheries at the University of Alaska and throughout the state. From a practical standpoint, the contacts can be valuable to students as they consider college and their future career plans.

The University of Alaska Southeast offers tuition waivers to all members of the top two teams, and Icicle Seafood is sponsoring five $1,000 scholarships to participants who apply and demonstrate promise.

Teams completed 20-page independent written research papers related to the future of the oceans, how certain pressing issues may influence human life and what innovations might address those issues. Marine debris, ocean acidification, invasive species and what to do about sea level rises, and drowning cities are all topics that might be addressed.

Seward’s research project and oral presentation, which takes place at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning is on harnessing the ocean’s tidal power as an alternative energy source in Alaska. The presentations are often enlightening, and although team members use scientific terms that are sometimes difficult to understand, they also include graphs, charts, photos, videos and even audio-recordings like the songs of whales.

Last year’s Seward team explored the possible reasons for the decline of the wild coho runs in the area, and suggested better preserving natural habitat, preventing further industrial degradation and creating more fish-friendly culverts rather than depending so heavily on costly hatchery-stocked silver salmon.

A popular event for teams is building and racing remotely operated vehicles around obstacles in the high school pool and attending the pool party there on Friday evening.

The marine-art exhibit/contest takes place this year at the K.M. Rae Building (UAF Marine Science Center) at Third and Railway. The contest is open to all students at participating high schools, not just team members. The opening reception is Friday night 7-9 p.m., and is open to the public.


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