Making waves: Juneau teen wins statewide award for ocean stewardship

Her involvement with the ocean ranges across all aspects of her life.

Elin Antaya, a Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior, was awarded the Hoffman-Greene Ocean Youth Award by the Alaska SeaLife Center for work supporting and stewarding the ocean. (Courtesy photo / ASC)

Elin Antaya, a Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior, was awarded the Hoffman-Greene Ocean Youth Award by the Alaska SeaLife Center for work supporting and stewarding the ocean. (Courtesy photo / ASC)

A Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé student was recently announced as the winner of a statewide award from the Alaska SeaLife Center for their dedication to the ocean.

Elin Antaya, a senior, received the Hoffman-Greene Ocean Youth Award for her work volunteering, researching and writing about the ocean and its role in life in Southeast Alaska following her work as an intern with University of Alaska Fairbanks’ fisheries researchers.

“I won the Hoffman-Greene Award because of my work in ocean stewardship,” Antaya said in a phone interview. “I was nominated by the researchers from UAF that I worked with last year. I worked with them last summer as a Hutton Scholar for the American Fishery Society.”

[SeaLife Center rehabs baby elephant seal]

That nomination, signed by a number of people familiar with Antaya’s enthusiasm for the ocean from scientists to her National Ocean Science Bowl coach, turned into an award earlier this year, said Lia Domke, a Ph.D. candidate with UAF’s fisheries department who worked with Antaya.

“She’s shown interest, investment and excitement about marine resources in Alaska,” Domke said. “We wanted to express that in a way more than words, and we thought the nomination would convey that.”

Antaya said receiving the award was an unexpected delight.

“I was like, ‘What, this is so cool!’ It feels pretty great. I’ve done NOSB for four years. With that, we’d always get to travel to the SeaLife Center,” Antaya said. “To have been awarded an award from the SeaLife Center, that’s crazy.”

Antaya was part of the Juneau NOSB team that won its division, earning a place in this year’s upcoming national tournament, as well as contributing writing to the Empire on the importance of ocean ecosystems. While the ocean is shot through the heart and soul of Southeast Alaska, for Antaya, it was even closer than most.

“Growing up, my dad worked for NOAA as a fisheries law enforcement officer. I was born in Sitka but we moved to Juneau. We had a Nordic Tug and we liked to travel a lot,” Antaya said. “Growing up in Juneau, we’d always go fishing. We’d always be on the water. Protecting that for future generations, that’s become more important.”

That closeness to the sea drove a lifelong interest, Antaya said, who also works at a local oyster farm, Salty Lady Seafood Co.

“Seeing the vastness, seeing all the factors that are not known but also the things that are known is really exciting to me,” Antaya said. “I got into sustainable fisheries because of my internship. I was on a team of all female scientists. It was really cool, really empowering.”

The Hutton Scholar selection meant Antaya was able to step into a research role generally reserved for much older students, Domke said.

“Elin ended up joining us for our field season in Prince of Wales Island. These are positions that we generally hire upper level undergrads. Elin stepped in as if she was an upper level undergrad,” Domke said. “She was a real go-getter. She asked really thoughtful, inquisitive questions.”

Domke said she was delighted to hear about Antaya being selected for the award, which comes with a $500 prize.

“I just think it’s really unique. It’s been a unique experience working with her,” Domke said. “I thought it was well deserved. It’s good to recognize someone on the state stage. It’s just one of the many achievements she’s had.”

Antaya said she’s considering her next steps, including deciding which of several prestigious ocean sciences-oriented colleges she’ll attend in the fall, with the eventual goal of returning to Alaska for grad school in fisheries sciences before returning to work in the state.

“I plan to come back to Alaska and work on sustainable fisheries here, especially mariculture as that becomes a $100 million industry here,” Antaya said. “How everything interacts and how to interact with everything is super cool to me.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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