In 2019 Alaska Sea Grant was part of a national collaboration to gather feedback and identify opportunities for improving preparedness for the public health, social disruption, and economic impacts of oil spills. There was a total of five workshops held nationwide focusing on three broadly defined topical areas of public health, social disruption, and economic impacts of oil spills. At each workshop, leaders representing impacted communities, and experts in emergency response and preparedness, oil spill science, and human health and well-being, were invited to share their knowledge with an audience of community stakeholders.

The workshop focused on Alaska found thatthe most common comment across the different groups and discussions was the need to better inform and include communities in research and response.  The co-production of knowledge is also important, so researchers understand the subsistence way of life in Alaska communities, and the value of local and traditional knowledge.  Residents of coastal communities in Alaska feel a sense of urgency due to the dramatic changes that are impacting their way of life and the need to build community resilience and capacity for response in a changing Arctic.

The focus on health at this workshop was a new lens for looking at oil and gas activity and potential response for many participants.  There is a desire by respondents for more baseline studies on human health in coastal Alaska.  There is a concern that more vessel traffic in the Bering and Chukchi seas especially, as well as other parts of Alaska, could lead to a vessel adrift or spill that could impact resources important for the subsistence way of life.

In summary the following are ideas for potential investments in research and community preparedness:

  • Research activities that dramatically increase engagement with communities and include key questions derived from community consultation.
  • Studies on best practices for response in rural coastal communities in Alaska, especially in areas where there are currently few response capabilities.
  • Invest in research in the Bering Sea Region where shipping is expected to increase in coming years.
  • Invest in research of innovative technology that benefits locally based response to a technological disaster.
  • Baseline studies on the potential impacts of oil spills on local economies in Alaska.
  • Baseline studies on the potential impacts of oil spills on resources important for subsistence.

To read more see the workshop report below.

 

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