Steve Weileman, professional wilderness guide, and award-wining filmmaker and environmental advocate has teamed up with ASC on the Ikkatsu Project's latest endeavor.Steve's photography has been featured in The Forgotten Shore: A Photographic Journey Through Alaska’s Snug Harbor and his film debut, Ikkatsu: The Roadless, won multiple awards, including best environmental film at the Waterwalker Film Festival in 2013.
Augustine Island and the most active volcano in Alaska. Photo by Steve Weileman.
THE INTRODUCTON -
For the past two years my partner, Ken Campbell, and I have been helping track marine debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami event. We call it The Ikkatsu Project.
Ikkatsu roughly translates as ‘in this together.’ We felt this was appropriate, as this event truly brings both cultures on either side of the Pacific together. Last year, we traveled down the Washington Coast by kayak, which allowed us access to beaches unavailable by any other means. In addition to looking for specific tsunami debris, we conducted marine surveys for NOAA (you can see our report here
). We also released an award-winning documentary entitled Ikkatsu: The Roadless Coast,
which you can watch in its entirety here
For this year, we chose an even more arduous task: take our kayaks and research methods to a remote island in Alaska. Augustine Island, located at the entrance to Cook Island, hosts the most active volcano in Alaska. With the exception of a few geologist from the Alaska Volcano Observatory, it receives almost no visitors. In order to maximize our contribution to science, I contacted the staff
at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and asked if they had any projects that would benefit from our location and ability. They put me in touch with Abby Barrow, Coastal Monitoring and Outreach Coordinator for the Marine Environmental Research Institute
. One Skype conversation and a few emails later, we were set to collect water samples for Abby as part of her micro-plastic program
Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman (Hig) are Alaskan adventurers with a love for coastlines and many thousands of miles of Alaskan wilderness under their belts. They founded the organization Ground Truth Trekking to educate and engage the public onAlaska's natural resource issues through human-powered expeditions and scientific data collection. They are accompanied on expeditions by their two small children. Erin is the author of two books on their journeys: A Long Trek Home and Small Feet, Big Land.
Packrafting along Fortification Bluffs. Photo by Erin McKittrick.
I've heard them called whistle-pigs. Or bear milk duds. Marmots are responsible for the piercing whistles that burst out from boulder piles along many an alpine ridge. They are the fuzzy, chubby guinea pig-like rodents, posing on rocky ledges. They are almost unreasonably cute. And we spent our whole trip searching for them.
Of course, the marmots were only a footnote. We walked and packrafted for three and a half months, tracing a line of 800 miles along the shore of Cook Inlet
with our two-year-old and four-year-old children. Cook Inlet is the heart of modern Alaska. It has Native villages and Russian villages, hippie towns and tourist traps and Alaska's biggest city. Cook Inlet is our home. It's also home to oil rigs and natural gas plants, coal mine proposals, wind turbines and tidal power proposals not to mention endangered whales, abundant bears, salmon and melting glaciers
. Lastly, it's home to most of Alaska's population, and hundreds of miles of nearly unpopulated wilderness.
And, quite likely, coastal marmots.
Why did we care? Truthfully, I wasn't sure at first. Hig
: "There's a researcher who's really excited about us looking for coastal marmots around the inlet. Says our trip is perfect for it." Erin
: "Is there even any such thing as a coastal marmot?" Hig
: "Well, I know there was one that lived at White Rock Beach when I was a kid, but I always thought he was kind of a fluke." Erin
(shrugging): "I guess we can keep our eyes out."
Jordan Holsinger is the newest member of the ASC team. He joined us as the Outreach Manager at the beginning of July after completing his Masters Degree in Environmental Science. Jordan personally bridges the gap between adventure and science as an endurance mountain biker and scientist whose previous research focused on the role of snow depth on plant-soil interactions in subalpine grasslands.
ASC guide Jaimie Walton after a long day of paddling. Photo by Jordan Holsinger.
I've spent time around large things - studying elephants and rhinoceros in South Africa, playing in the peaks of the Rocky Mountain West - but nothing makes you feel small like sitting in a sea kayak being charged by a pack of sea lions (video after the break). Splashing and yelling, the 15-headed monster moved right for our boat and I began to wonder what might happen if they didn’t stop. Then the enormous creatures gracefully disappeared under the water, nowhere to be seen. Only one word is needed to explain and describe it simultaneously: ALASKA (which Gregg always insisted on saying in a deep, raspy whisper).
Eric, the raft guide and part of the support team, has a blast on the Amazon with West Hansen. Photo credit: www.amazonexpress2012.com
West Hansen and his team of boaters are kayaking down the Amazon River from Source to Sea and attempting a speed record as well. Along the way he is collecting data for ASC's South American Wildlands Biodiversity Project. Everyday they write down observations of flora, fauna, geology, archeology, and cultural use areas as they travel. The data they bring back will help create a comprehensive map of biodiversity in this They are nearing their final destination: the Mouth of the Amazon. Here is an excerpt from their blog.
The team was enjoying the beautiful bright moon rising over the Amazon River. Today, they enjoyed no wind at all. The water was flat and the weather muggy. The team drank a lot more water due to the hot, muggy weather conditions. They are enjoying the channel. It’s a very nice change from the previous 3800+ miles. They paddled
50.8 miles today. In Texas, that would be a drop in the bucket. In the Amazon, it’s a 12.5 hour tough day. The weather, flat water, river traffic and school buses all slowed them down.
The school buses are actually larger river boats with a small dugout canoe tied up along side it. When they reach a bus stop, the canoe (which has a small motor) will untie, go pick up the kids at the end of the dock, motor them back over to the larger boat, the kids climb into the larger boat and continue their way down the river. The larger boat never stops. In addition, the team saw a small dugout canoe with a couple of small, young girls (7-9 yrs old) paddling a smaller dugout canoe with wooden paddles about a 1/2 mile across the river to get to their bus stop. Now, I cannot imagine my 9 year old paddling a dugout canoe on her way to school down the Amazon River. Of course, it’s a way of life for these young ladies. West stopped and got pictures, of course. Can’t wait to see those.
Danielle Katz and John Dye, founder and co-founder of Rivers for Change, have officially begun their 1,900 mile, human powered paddling project. Beginning in January with the lower Yuba and completing the 111 mile trip down the Russian River in February, the 12 Rivers in 2012 campaign commenced its mission to explore, source to sea, California’s most significant water sheds. As impressive as this is, it’s only the beginning for Katz, Dye, and the rest of their team. Throughout the year, they also plan to travel the Salinas, Los Angeles, American, Tuolumne, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Klamath, and Feather Rivers. The adventurers are separated into two groups in order to travel the entire feasible length of each river. In the spring and summer (when the runoff is most significant), the Headwaters Team begins at the uppermost portion of each watershed - at the first runnable (Class IV and V+) stretches of river. Below, the Mainstream Team takes over to complete the long journey to the ocean.
The idea behind 12 Rivers in 2012
is that by undertaking expeditions to travel these rivers from their origins to the sea, the team will gain a comprehensive and unprecedented view of each watershed as well as garner widespread attention for the threats they face. By inviting community members along for portions of the adventure (Community Conservation Paddle Days), Rivers for Change aims to inspire participants to become advocates for their local rivers. In addition to raising public awareness, 12 Rivers in 2012
has the opportunity to collect scientific data that can be used for better understanding and thus managing these ecosystems. Realizing this potential, Katz and Dye reached out to Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), hoping that the nonprofit could pair them with a researcher in need of data from their expedition.
ASC matched Rivers for Change with Mike Deas of Watercourse Inc., a freshwater ecologist who has been studying flow, temperature, and water quality in many of these rivers. The 12 Rivers team are collecting water samples for Deas to analyze, and algae samples which can provide important information on climate change. In addition, they will be collecting water quality samples to determine presence of various pollutants dissolved in the water column.
All of this data will provide Deas and other researchers with details concerning these critical California watersheds. With this information and the awareness raised by the feats of the adventurers, 12 Rivers in 2012
holds the potential to be a landmark for river conservation. For more information on Rivers for Change, including dates (they’re tackling the Salinas next week) and ways you can get involved, visit www.riversforchange.org
. To find out more about adventurers and scientists currently or soon to be working with ASC, check out http://www.adventureandscience.org/expeditions.html