Students at Sayéik Gastineau Community School rummaged through trash at a school assembly on Friday. A shark, a dolphin, a salmon and a warrior looked on.
The kids sorted the trash by type, auditing what was in there. The ocean animals and the warrior, those were adults in costumes — employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on hand to help Gastineau and Thunder Mountain High School become what’re called Ocean Guardian schools.
Friday’s kickoff at Gastineau officially starts the first Ocean Guardian programs in Alaska. The program helps teach children and teens about ocean stewardship while letting them take the lead on volunteer programs that help keep oceans debris-free.
Using less trash is key to helping keep it out of the water, said NOAA’s Kim Raum-Suryan, the dolphin in the group. She hopes to inspire kids to start caring for the ocean environment early.
“I want kids to become better stewards of the ocean. When you learn young, maybe you’ll help conserve the ocean as you grow older,” Raum-Suryan said.
At Gastineau, students will work to lessen their trash use and are planning a drive to acquire enough reusable cutlery to replace the disposable ones given out at the cafeteria.
Using and throwing away less trash — especially plastic — means less of it has a chance to end up in the ocean environment, said organizer Alicia Schuler. It’s estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, Schuler said.
Plastic products can entangle fish and marine mammals, Raum-Suryan said. Small and mid-sized bits get digested, causing health problems in an assortment of animals.
Raum-Suryan works in NOAA’s Protected Resource Division, where she often comes across Steller Sea Lions entangled in plastic trash. Starting the program in Juneau was her idea: she pitched it to her boss, who gave her the go-ahead, then reached out to different Juneau schools.
Gastineau and TMHS answered.
High school students in marine biology teacher Kristen Wells’ class traveled from the Mendenhall Valley to Gastineau on Friday to support the younger group’s kickoff assembly.
Wells teaches two sections of marine bio, with about 60 kids total. She’s incorporating the Ocean Guardian program into her classes.
Students are planning to upcycle plastic debris into jewelry, said junior Keana Villanueva, which they plan to sell at the Public Market this year. They also hope to start a recycling program at the school, which currently doesn’t have one, Wells said.
They’re going to lobby for water-bottle fill up stations, too, making it easier for them and their classmates to stay hydrated without hitting the vending machine for a single-use plastic bottle.
Raum-Suryan said the community can help the Gastineau program by donating cutlery. She also encouraged anyone interested to look into bringing the program to their school.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at KevinGullufsen.