Scientist Interview: meet Stephen Payton

Stephen Payton has been collecting weekly water samples for ocean acidification research in his home community of Seldovia, in partnership with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you and your community got involved in OA sampling

I’m the Fisheries Technician for the Seldovia Village Tribe. Before beginning to work for the Tribe I worked as a seasonal employee for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association at a weir in Seward and at the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery.

Ocean Acidification (OA) has been on people’s minds for a while. In Seldovia there’s a long history of everyone highly relying on the ocean for food and for work. The Seldovia area has seen huge declines in clams and shellfish in the area that is attributed to over fishing mostly. Some shellfish are beginning to come back to levels capable of sustaining a small harvest. So OA is scary as a new threat to our marine resources. Seldovia Village Tribe’s Environmental Department have been helping Jeff Hetrick and Roger Painter with some prior projects they were working on at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery (APSH) and they approached us about collecting water samples as part of their project, and we were more than happy to join in. 

Q: From the citizen scientist standpoint, what does water sampling for ocean acidification involve? 

Jacqueline Ramsay with APSH provided us with a kit that has all the equipment we need to collect and preserve water samples. Once a week my co-worker Jan Yaeger or I go down to the float plane dock here in Seldovia and use a water grab to collect a sample. We hold the samples until we have a dozen or more and then they get shipped back to Jacqueline at APSH. We try to be as consistent as possible going once a week and around the same time. While we’re there we also collect water samples for Rosie Robinson at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (KBNERR) to monitor for harmful algal blooms. So we get to help out in two ways.

Q: What have you learned so far about the results from your community?

Jacqueline, Jeff, and Roger have been great to work with and always keep us up to date on their results. We have been told our data has been great because of the consistency throughout the project. As Jacqueline stated in her interview they found a trend in saturation state in summer versus winter months. I believe Jeff had stated that what they’re finding is very close to what they had predicted.

Are people talking about ocean acidification in Seldovia, and if so, what are their thoughts? 

OA is talked about in Seldovia. I feel fishermen are particularly interested because of the effects OA could have on their jobs. People are interested and want to know if, how, and when it could affect the marine life they rely on. I know one person who had been thinking of getting into oyster farming but decided not to because with advancing OA they don’t think it will be viable in the future. A lot of times, especially in the summer, people come by and ask us what we’re fishing for or what we’re doing. So we have been able to inform many people, locals and tourists, about OA and APSH’s efforts.

What keeps you committed to this program?

I think I stay committed to collecting samples for the program because OA is a real issue, it is happening and we need to study and understand it so we know how to react as it progresses. Half an hour or so once a week is all it takes to help others collect some meaningful data. We hope we can use what we have learned from this project to create our own OA project possibly involving clams in an area where SVT has performed a study in the past. We are also interested in starting a kelp project that would involve an OA study.

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