As first-grader Xander Webb is helped out of the top hatch, marine ecologist Michelle Ridgway, right, instructs other Faith Community Christian School students about the training submarine at the Auke Bay Fire Station on Tuesday.

As first-grader Xander Webb is helped out of the top hatch, marine ecologist Michelle Ridgway, right, instructs other Faith Community Christian School students about the training submarine at the Auke Bay Fire Station on Tuesday.

Juneau kids explore Aureo, the yellow submarine

Before lowering himself into Aureo, an erstwhile research vessel brought to Juneau to teach kids about ocean sciences, local Faith Community Christian School fourth-grader Lucas Thompson — who aims to be a pro football player — wasn’t too keen on the sea.

“I don’t think I want to have anything to do with the ocean, unless the ocean has to do with football,” Thompson said.

But after checking out the 14-foot yellow submarine, Thompson changed his tune.

“Now it’s very hard to decide, very hard,” he said about his career choice.

Juneau elementary and middle school students have been exploring the sub with local marine ecologist Michelle Ridgway this week, learning about ocean sciences and the where their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses can take them.

Heidi Boucher’s third- and fourth-grade class jostled in line to board the single-person submersible, which was hauled on its trailer to the Auke Bay Fire Station Tuesday for the field trip. Students held pictures of octopi and sharks in front of the viewport to simulate a mission.

Words like “cool,” “awesome” and “epic” were thrown about.

“I’m just really interested in all those creatures,” fourth-grader Joshua File said. “I want to be an ocean explorer and see all the cool stuff down there.”

Ridgway has worked as an ecologist everywhere from Metlakatla to Barrow to the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands and uses submersibles to study deep sea food webs.

Ridgway, who has worked in all kinds of ocean habitats, said nothing beats teaching kids ocean sciences than with hands-on experiences. They always respond positively, she said.

“It’s not just my opinion, I’ve observed this and data supports it,” Ridgway said. “I’ve trained kids with ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles) and it’s very validating to them to see what’s possible with real tools and tactile context. I am not a teacher, so I treat them like a research partner.”

Ridgway’s found the hands-on approach helps answer the one question all students ask: “When am I ever going to use this?”

“I’ve heard from principals and teachers that they pay much closer attention in math and science courses when they know they’re going to apply it,” Ridgway said. “Students still talk about these experiences, some have gone on in careers in this, and I hear from them from time to time in emails.”

The Alaska chapter of the Explorers Club and the Alaska Deep Sea Ocean Sciences Institute partnered to make the sub available to kids. Ridgway is the chair of the Alaska chapter of the Explorers Club and helped put together a deal with a partial donation and partial purchase of the vessel from Kodiak resident Dick Waddell. The Aureo sailed from Kodiak to Juneau on the M/V Kennicott this spring.

The Aureo is still a fully-functioning sub, though it’s been simplified so kids can use it safely and will not damage it. It’s designed to dive 120 meters and is powered by two four-foot long battery pods and three thrusters, one each on the port (left) and starboard (right) and one main thruster on the stern (back). High pressure tanks on Aureo’s sides allow it to release pressure as it sinks below the waves.

Ridgway wants to see Alaskans take ownership of science and technology, and believes her volunteer work with kids can help spur the next generation to accept that challenge.

“Personally, I want to see Alaskans develop our own technology to research our massive undersea region for resources, sea life biodiversity, marine pharmaceuticals, archaeology, detecting change in the ocean,” Ridgway said. “Currently, we largely rely on technology developed for environments elsewhere, often transported at tremendous cost, and often operated by outside entities. I believe our maritime heritage, science savvy and intimate reliance on the ocean are ideal Alaskan attributes to marshal for developing science and technology jobs to advance research under Alaskan seas.”

Ridgway also brought an ROV with her to share with the students. “Ruby,” is 3 feet long and is operated remotely by a controller, which one student was intrigued by because it was “just like Xbox.”

Though the kids were universally astounded by their experience, it wasn’t lost on them that working in a single-person submersible is no life of ease in a sea of green.

“I thought there was going to be more space,” Jenna Sydney, a student in Trista Anderson’s first- and second-grade class, said.

“You have to pee in a bottle,” classmate Taylor Williams added, “What do you do with it, throw it in the trash?”

• Contact Outdoors reporter and Sports Editor Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or at

Faith Community Christian School third-grader Gunnar Tarver peeks out a porthole window of a one-person training submarine at the Auke Bay Fire Station on Tuesday.

Faith Community Christian School third-grader Gunnar Tarver peeks out a porthole window of a one-person training submarine at the Auke Bay Fire Station on Tuesday.

More in Neighbors

Page Bridges (Courtesy Photo)
Living & Growing: The miracle of life

The kingdom of God is here. Now.

"A kid’s hardest task is to learn how to translate their parents’ words into intelligible language. Baffled kids often ask, 'What is my mother saying?'" writes Peggy McKee Barnhill. (Unsplash / Vadim Bogulov)
Gimme a Smile: What is my mother saying?

Kids, let me enlighten you.

Áakʼw Ḵwáan spokesperson Fran Houston addresses a crowd of people during a blessing ceremony on Friday at Marine Park as part of the Kootéeyaa Deiyí (Totem Pole Trail) that will run along the downtown Juneau waterfront. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
PHOTOS: Blessing held at grounds of Kootéeyaa Deiyí

Ceremony held at future site of Totem Pole Trail.

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)
Coming Out: At the pool

This column is a kind of conscientious objection…

"After nearly two decades in such a unique place, Alaska’s definitely rubbed off on me," writes Geoff Kirsch. "These streak marks, so to speak, appear most noticeable whenever I visit the Lower 48, land of Dairy Queens, zoning laws and people who’ve never scraped eagle poop from their windshields. To wit, nothing makes me appreciate living in Alaska more than leaving for a few weeks." Unsplash / Greg Rosenke
Slack Tide: Alaska vs. the Lower 48

On one hand, flavorful tomatoes. On the other hand, the PFD.

This photo shows AWARE’s 2023 Women of Distinction (left to right) Kate Wolfe, Jennifer Brown, LaRae Jones and Susan Bell. (Courtesy Photo)
Thank you letter for the week of March 19, 2023

Thank you, merci, danke, gracias, gunalchéesh.

Joab Cano (Courtesy Photo)
Living & Growing: Trust in God

Do you trust in God?

Recognitions for the week of March 19

Juneau students earn academic honors

During winter 2022-23, contractors replace the awning structure on the 1904-1913 Valentine Building. The historic building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Its location at the corner of Front and Seward streets is also within Juneau’s Downtown Historic District. (Laurie Craig / For the DBA)
Rooted in Community: The historic Valentine Building and the Findley Family

Many shops have occupied the Seward Street storefronts while Juneau Drug anchors the corner space.

"Bald pride abounds," writes Geoff Kirsch. "In fact, a Bald Men Club of Japan holds an annual Bald Man Competition. In this Olympic-style international tournament, two men stick suction cups to their heads, attached to a single red rope, and then attempt to pull off their opponent’s cup, tug-of-war style. Better start training for next year; I wonder what the rules say about Spider Tack…" (Unsplash /  Chalo Garcia)
Slack Tide: The good, the bald and the ugly

A look at merely a few benefits of being bald…

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)
Coming Out: A brief desultory digression

Wisdom in Willie and Waylon and veritable virtue in Virgil.

Rotary Club of Juneau recently announced recipients of Annual Vocational Service Awards. They were Marjorie Menzies, Marc Wheeler,The Financial Reality Fairs’ Sponsors and Organizers,The Teal Street Center and Juneau’s Legislative Delegation  (Sen. Jesse Kiehl, Rep. Sara Hannan and Rep. Andi Story. (Courtesy Photo)
Rotary Club of Juneau presents Annual Vocational Service Awards

Each year, the Rotary Club of Juneau’s Vocational Service Awards, honor businesses,… Continue reading