Network Interview: Meet Stephanie Mason

Stephanie Mason is the regional environmental coordinator for Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) and has helped launch an OA community sampling effort on Kodiak.

Q: Kodiak has recently started a community-sampling program for ocean acidification. Can you tell us about it?

Currently Kodiak Archipelago has three (soon to be four) active discrete sampling sites where seawater is collected on a weekly basis for testing of ocean acidification (OA) chemistry (PCO2 and TCO2). All three discrete sampling locations are in villages, only accessible by boat or plane; Native Village of Old Harbor, Native Village of Larsen Bay, and Native Village of Ouzinkie. The sampling program is coordinated by Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) and NOAA- Kodiak’s Laboratory is responsible for analyzing samples, providing equipment and technical support.  The actual sampling in these communities is conducted by the Tribal Environmental Program Coordinators and volunteers.

Q: How did Kodiak decide to get involved?

A little over two years ago, I was hired on as Environmental Coordinator with the responsibility of providing technical and programmatic assistance to Kodiak Tribes with and without environmental programs. The environmental priorities of the Tribes became mine as well, marine water quality being one of them.

Soon after taking on this position at KANA and recognizing the priorities of the Tribes, I sat down with Dr. Bob Foy who was the Director of the Kodiak Laboratory of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (NOAA) at the time. Knowing Kodiak Laboratory had one of few Burke-o-lator’s, and knowing Dr. Foy’s background knowledge on the effects of OA on  crustaceans, I thought he would be the ideal person to discuss the possibility of a community science OA monitoring program for Kodiak Archipelago.

Dr. Foy had envisioned a citizen science program like this years back so it didn’t take long for us to put our brains together, bring in all the right entities and partners and move forward with program logistics. Now two years later we are actively taking samples in three locations with the desire to increase sampling locations.

Stephanie Mason demonstrating how to use a niskin sampler with Linc Shanagin, Tribal Environmental Assistant in Native Village of Ouzinkie.

Q: What’s the commitment like for a community sampler?

Each sampler is requested to sample once a week, using Niskin water samplers to collect the seawater from the surface and the sea floor. They are also trained to use YSI ProDSS, an instrument to take readings of temperature, salinity, pH, oxygen and turbidity again, at both the surface and seafloor. The readings on the YSI ProDSS are recorded on a data log.

Q: What happens to the samples?

After the samples are collected, they are stored in the villages until they have about a month’s worth and then the samplers put the bottles and YSI data logs on a flight into Kodiak. (Special thanks to our transporters, Island Air) KANA’s currier then picks the samples up, brings them to KANA where they are stored in my office until Cary Mason who is the newest “Burkolater tender” in Kodiak can come retrieve them and analyze them.

Q: What are project goals and objectives?

– Foster OA resiliency awareness to support sustainable coastal communities through collection and monitoring of baseline water quality components such as: ocean carbonate chemistry, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and nutrient concentration/availability data.

–  To adapt to the effects of ocean acidification and ocean warming, advocate for innovative research on subsistence and commercial marine resources, promote data sharing, and encourage collaboration between Tribes, state, and federal resource managers.

– Provide education, outreach and documentation to Kodiak Tribes, schools, and communities based on data collected and via other Alaskan oceanic observations.

Q: Do you have a sense of how Kodiak residents feel about ocean acidification?  Is it something people are talking about?

Ocean acidification is definitely rising to the surface when it comes to talk on the streets and basic citizen awareness in Kodiak. I think we can all say the climate change is among us and we are seeing some drastic impacts to our ecosystem, especially marine. The direct impact to individuals is opening everyone’s eyes and starting great dialogue. We are looking forward to ‘Adapt Kodiak’, facilitated by Davin Holen (Alaska Sea Grant) this fall where the dialogue can be discussed even further between experts and locals.

Q: Any advice for a community who is thinking about joining the OA community-based sampling network in Alaska?

Ask for help, ask questions, and ask others who are involved or who have started up monitoring programs themselves. We can all learn from one another and get more accomplished when working efficiently together–no need to recreate the wheel! Our monitoring program would not be where its at without the help of EPA funds, NOAA, Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Alaska OA Network support. All OA experts and entities have been so receptive to help us out in the early and current stages of the program.

Also, try not to be intimidated. It can get scary with complex science-y terminology and experts knowledge but you too can become an expert with time. It is amazing what passion can drive you to do, especially when it is a common goal of many. We are all in this together.

Cape Spruce on Kodiak Island. Photo: Stephanie Mason


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