Science provides important answers from how hair dye chemicals work covering the gray to why aren’t as many salmon arriving this year. In Kachemak Bay, we stumble on good science questions each time we take a walk on the beach or drive down the Homer Spit. Tourists ask some good ones as well, like “what keeps the Homer Spit afloat?” The answer to that, of course, is that the spit isn’t floating. It’s a glacial moraine of solid land nearly five miles long.
This week’s Kachemak Bay Science Conference provides a lot of opportunity to learn more fun facts about our ecology. Some 30 presentations offer updates on a whole slew of topics such as the Bay’s sea otter population, shorebird surveys, mushy halibut flesh, sea slopes’ influence on giant Pacific octopus, kelp beds near glaciers and whale necropsy results. The entire three-day affair is free and open to the public.
It is especially important for us to understand the functions of our world around us as changes in weather patterns and the ecosystem continually unfold. In the past, scientists could ensconce themselves in ivory towers, as keynote speaker at the conference, Nancy Baron puts it. There’s a long history of why scientists might be leery of presenting their theories wholesale to the public. Copernicus, Da Vinci, Galileo are a few examples that come to mind of those who suffered greatly while their political systems tugged toward disbelief. In Alaska politics, a biologist releasing his study on drowning polar bears was suspended from his job while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated various parts of his methodology. Evidence surfaced that suspending Charles Monnett, a U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation biologist, stemmed mainly from higher-ups not liking the political ramifications of his conclusions.
In a political climate through the past three Alaska governors, hard-worked studies on wildlife become fodder for lawsuits against the federal government in its EPA endangerment listing questions. One can clearly see that being an Alaska biologists would be fraught with potential terror on everything from wolf studies to black bears to ice packs and even ocean acidification.
This is why it is especially important for members of the public to bone up on science so they can have a seat at the table. Yes, it’s difficult to understand various parts of a changing climate. But stakes are high.
We hope talks, presentations and debates have a great turn out at the conference and that together, we learn as much as we can about our changing world.
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