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Science and Nature

August 31, 2023

New scientists at work.

We wrapped up the benchmark study in Kukak Bay and after a stop in Kaflia Bay with a hike up the chain of lakes above it, we headed back across Shelikof Strait toward Kodiak.

On the way across, the students tallied their observations. They had seen orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, and harbor seals. They had seen (many) brown bears, a white wolf, a moose, several deer, a rabbit, and the tracks of river otters and mice. They counted crab barnacles, moon snails, limpets, hermit crabs, and mussels. They saw and photographed 14 species of birds and two bald eagle nesting sites. They documented 70 species of plants (two trees, ten shrubs, three ferns, six grasses and sedges, 13 flowers, 16 mosses and lichens, 13 species of mushrooms, and seven other plants they couldn’t identify). Testing the soil, they found it was mostly ejecta from the Mount Kukak eruption of 1889.

Late in the afternoon we anchored near Whale Pass and took the Zodiac to explore a small heavily wooded island.

The kids weren’t like they were 12 days before. For one thing, they looked at every rock, tree, moss, bird, and animal sign carefully, thinking about it, asking questions. The benchmark study was over, but it had given them observation skills and unlocked their curiosity. They knew more about what they were looking at, and thought about how it all fit together, because now they understood that it does.

For another thing, they were now comfortable in the wilderness. Their trepidation was gone. The wilderness was now a place of fascination and wonder. At one point they all lay down on the moss-covered forest floor and went quiet.

I have come to believe that almost anyone can appreciate the superficial beauty of nature, and even feel a sense of awe and majesty. But if you apply science to nature – observation, knowledge, theory, and more observation – nature becomes even more wonderous and beautiful and the interlocking puzzle of science becomes infinitely deeper and more fascinating. You also understand why preserving wilderness is so important to every one of us on Earth.

I bring students out here to light them up about science and nature. These six kids got lit. As they go on in their lives, I expect each of them will influence other people, maybe 50, maybe 500, maybe more. This is how I pass on the values I find important and protect what I love.

-- Bill Urschel


To download a copy of the students’ paper, click here: A Benchmark Study of Aguchik Island and Kukak Bay, Alaska. We’re booking student expeditions for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. If you’re interested, send us an email and ask for a copy of our curriculum.

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A sunflower sea star about to be returned safely to the kelp forest.

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