Brevig Mission Studies Environmental Challenges

High school students in Brevig Mission investigated environmental challenges relevant to their community in their environmental science courses with Rebecca Siegel this year.  They began the unit by mapping out local places of importance to them, their families, and the village, and then identifying some areas where environmental threats were already causing problems or likely to emerge in the future.

Given increased shipping and vessel traffic in the northern Bering Sea, oil spills were a topic of concern that the classes focused on for a period of 3 weeks.  Visiting scientist, Katie Gavenus from the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, led students through hands-on exploration of shoreline dynamics, modeling of how an oil spill might spread, and a miniature-scale simulated clean up.  The Brevig Mission EPA-IGAP coordinator and assistant graciously visited the classes to share information, pictures, and lessons learned from land-based oil spill clean up in the Brevig Mission area.

The students were shocked to find that, though Brevig Mission has a robust team of people trained to respond to a land-based oil spill, there is no one in the community trained to respond to a marine spill nor does the village have any materials specifically geared towards marine oil spills.

Fired up by this new knowledge, the students analyzed the Geographic Response Strategies for oil spills in their local region.  Noticing that the GRS had never been field-tested, the students combined their knowledge of local currents, tides, winds, and stream flow with their burgeoning understanding of how oil moves and how clean up materials are used.  They discussed potential weak points in the GRS, and identified different materials or strategies that might be considered.

The students wrote letters and e-mails to Nuka Research & Planning Group (the company that drafted the GRS) and the State of Alaska’s Division of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, detailing their concerns about the specific components of the GRS as well as general lack of training and relevant materials in Brevig Mission. Synthesizing their learning and increased awareness, the students encouraged the state to devote more resources to supporting villages in the Bering Sea region to be ready to respond to marine oil spills.

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