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Kachemak Bay Research Reserve relaunches public science series after 2-year COVID hiatus

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Hope McKenney
14-year-old Thomas Wang stands at a table with his five-year-old sister Zoe, spraying water at a paper diorama of a mountain, as colors run down and mix in a rainbow puddle at the bottom.

Syverine Bentz pinned sticky notes reading “river,” “glacier” and “precipitation” to a game board in Homer last weekend as a group of teenagers looked on.

“What happens when we’re out in the field all day and we get a lot of mud on our clothes?” she asked, pointing to a painting of a river on the back of the gameboard. “Yep, it’s used for washing and cleaning and making food. What else? Are there any more [water] sources or uses you can think of?”

Bentz works at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve as a coastal training program coordinator. The in-person public science lecture and lab at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center on Friday were her first in two years, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the reserve to move the free community events online.

She said it’s good to be back.

“This discovery lab that we're in right here is an education program and public outreach event where anyone from the community – families, residents and visitors – can kind of stroll through at their own pace and explore some of the concepts and science that we're learning about our landscape and water, and ask questions or get to know their water a little bit better,” Bentz said.

The reserve’s series of public lectures and hands-on demonstrations cover a different topic each month, like tide pool invertebrates and volcanoes and earthquakes along the Ring of Fire.

This month, Bentz said, her organization chose a groundwater workshop because of how many researchers studying local watersheds happened to be in town.

One of them was Edgar Guerron-Orejuela, a PhD student at the University of South Florida and a graduate fellow with the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve. He’s working to understand how groundwater and surface water systems interact in the Kenai lowlands.

The most important thing scientists can do, he said, is share their work with the communities it impacts through events like the weekend lecture and lab.

“It does me no good if I take my knowledge and my experience and my data back to Florida,” he said. “For one, it's thousands of miles away. And yeah, it may give me a degree, but it's not doing any change, right? We are very invested in what's happening here. We care about the community, we care about the ecosystems. So I think this is super important, we need to find many different ways of communicating the science we're doing.”

Among those in attendance Friday to learn about local groundwater issues was 14-year-old Thomas Wang, visiting with his family from Idaho. He stood at a table with his five-year-old sister Zoe, spraying water at a paper diorama of a mountain, as colors ran down and mixed in a rainbow puddle at the bottom.

He said he’s hoping to share the things he learned during the lab with friends back home who might not understand the importance of watersheds.

“I'm learning about the watershed nutrients and how water eventually leads all those nutrients down to the ocean,” Wang said. “It's all a cycle. So different things like salmon and trees provide different nutrients, and all of that eventually leads to the ocean. So that's what a watershed is. I find it interesting.”

The Kachemak Bay Research Reserve plans to host its next public discovery lab at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in late July.

The reserve is part of a national network of 29 reserves that are supported through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a state partner.

In 2019, Hope moved to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor to work for Alaska's Energy Desk and KUCB — the westernmost public radio newsroom in the country. She has lived, worked and filed stories from California, New York, Bolivia, Peru, Cuba and Alaska.
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