‘The ocean is their garden’: Initiative aims to make whaling safer

North Slope whalers may be able to determine wave height and direction before hitting the water this summer. This is thanks to new initiatives aimed at making subsistence lifestyles safer and improving co-production between Alaska Native communities and researchers.

The Backyard Buoys project hires residents of the whaling community to install up to 25 small buoys to collect real-time wave data. According to her, the buoys will be deployed in her 2023 and her in 2024, and the wave information that the buoys will collect will be published online and available to people before they go out to sea.

“We give them the tools to see in real time where they should be boating today and where it is safe to go,” Wisdom said. Regarding one of the systems, the Alaska Ocean Observing System, he said:

“Their livelihood is based on the ocean. The ocean is their garden,” she added. How it can help.”

Leslie Hopson, Executive Director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, said that declining sea ice, increased shipping traffic in the Arctic and overall changes in ecosystems will make whaling villages the best way to cope with the impacts of climate change. He said he was on the front lines.

Wisdom agrees. “Due to increasing storm surges, what was used in the past may not be available today.”

According to Wisdom, each whaler has a different place to launch and return the boat, and wave buoys will be placed in those places. Whalers and their communities also decide when to use buoys, what information to track and how to use it. NOAA will then help residents develop appropriate data tools so they can “look before they go” to the ocean to ensure safe travel.

“We help design data tools that really work for cold, wet hands. Are they interested in wave height, wave direction, or both? Or wind speed?” Wisdom said. “It’s how they want to look at it and how they use it.”

Buoys will allow residents to see what’s going on in real time – what’s happening right now. But the data can also be used by the National Weather Service and other researchers to see what’s happening over time and improve predictive models, Wisdom said. The data will also help with longer-term planning related to climate change resilience.

A two-year, $4.98 million National Science Foundation grant to the project begins in November 2022 and runs through September 2024. Wisdom said the season will begin this summer and will expand to more locations in 2024. This is his one of six projects funded through the National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator. This program finds solutions to large-scale social challenges through research, innovation, and partnerships.

Wave Buoy Program Coordinators and Village Buoy Facilitators who work directly on buoy deployment and project coordination are available for hire at the 11 North Slope Whaling Villages that are part of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Residents of Utqiagvik, Nuiqsut, Little Diomede, Wainwright, Gambell and Savoonga have expressed interest in the program, Mr Hopson said.

The Backyard Buoy project will not only provide North Slope residents with actionable information on wave conditions, but will also help bridge local Indigenous knowledge and scientific data collection.

Although the amount of scientific research essential to understanding Arctic climate change is increasing, few projects involve indigenous knowledge and co-production, Hopson said.

“This massive increase in research has impacted our coastal communities, including the disruption of the marine mammals we live with, hunting conflicts, and the ongoing need for constant consultation,” Hopson said. “Most of the time, this consultation is completed without compensation, and it doesn’t always directly benefit our way of life.”

Backyard buoys allow residents to develop their own scientific projects, manage their own data, and learn how to apply it to their daily lives, Wisdom said.

“Given the self-determination, sovereignty of these communities in Alaska, this is a true step in partnership that will help us move in the direction of independence and allow us to create our own data and tools. ”

Wisdom said wave buoys are typically 3 meters high, “huge,” cost more than $150,000, and require large ships to transport. But this is not the case for the wave buoys used in the project and buoys from sensor company Sofar Ocean.

“These wave buoys that have been developed are about the size of a basketball,” said Wisdom. “They’re much smaller, more portable, and more affordable. They’re made to be used by the average person, but they can also be used by scientists on board large research vessels.”

In this way, indigenous communities will have fewer barriers to leading backyard buoy projects and obtaining wave buoy data, Wisdom said.

“In the Pacific Northwest we are fishermen, in the Pacific Islands we are fishermen and sailors,” she said. “And in the Arctic we are fishermen, whalers, marine mammal hunters,” she said. , subsistence whalers, fishermen and hunters “must make decisions based on this changing Arctic without the use of tools”.

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