National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees Kim Raum-Suryan, left, Alicia Schuler, middle, and Aleria Jensen speak to Sayeik Gastineau Community School students about ocean conservancy on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Gastineau is one of two Juneau schools to start an Ocean Guardian program, which will work to clean up local shorelines and advocate for ocean issues. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees Kim Raum-Suryan, left, Alicia Schuler, middle, and Aleria Jensen speak to Sayeik Gastineau Community School students about ocean conservancy on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Gastineau is one of two Juneau schools to start an Ocean Guardian program, which will work to clean up local shorelines and advocate for ocean issues. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

Juneau schools launch Ocean Guardian program to combat marine mess

Students at Thunder Mountain High School and Sayéik Gastineau Elementary School seek to make a wave in ocean conservation

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 kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at KevinGullufsen.


More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

Bus drivers picket outside the bus barn in Wasilla, Alaska on Jan. 26, 2023. Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district have gone on strike after delivering students to classes on Tuesday,  Jan. 31, citing unfair labor practices. (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News)
Mat-Su school bus drivers strike

ANCHORAGE — Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district went on strike… Continue reading

The Juneau School District’s recently announced its new directors of teaching and learning support and student services who are set to start in their positions in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
District selects new directors for teaching and learning support and student services

The new directors will take over their roles in the district in July.

The final Boeing 747 lands at Paine Field following a test flight, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Everett, Wash. Boeing bids farewell to an icon on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, when it delivers the jumbo jet to cargo carrier Atlas Air. Since it debuted in 1969, the 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft, but it has been rendered obsolete by more profitable and fuel-efficient models. (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)
Boeing bids farewell to an icon, delivers last 747 jumbo jet

SEATTLE — Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday: It’s delivering… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, after returning from an event in Baltimore on infrastructure. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)
Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

The move would formally restructure the federal coronavirus response.

Carla Casulucan, shareholder relations manager for Huna Totem Corp., gives public testimony Monday night in support of the Huna Totem development and urged the city to vote against an ordinance that would have allowed the city to spend $300,000 to help plan the location of a proposed cruise ship dock at the downtown subport. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
City decides against spending on cruise ship dock planning

Assembly votes down ordinance after more than a dozen public comments against it.

Eaglecrest Ski Patrol received a report of an avalanche in closed terrain in the East Bowl Chutes at 10:10 a.m. Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Most Read