Alaska Region Aquaculture Program Expands Diversity and Inclusion

Students prepare to collect seaweed to bring back to class. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Need for land-based culture

Ḵ’aach’ or dulse is a traditionally important species of seaweed that has been harvested in Southeast Alaska for millennia by the Tlingit and Haida peoples. Tribal members have expressed concern that this vibrant red seaweed could be threatened by climate change, coastal contamination and harvesting pressures. At the request of Justina Hotch, an educator from the Klukwan Native Community in Alaska, NOAA’s Alaska Regional Aquaculture Program developed a culture and small-scale curriculum for cultivating Ḵ’aach ‘ in a K-12 classroom in Klukwan. The curriculum and materials were also shared with 3rd and 4th graders in Juneau.

Grant to prioritize aquaculture inclusiveness

The project received a Diversity and Inclusion grant from the International Call for Aquaculture Funds and is one of the first projects to be funded under this mechanism. NOAA provides many federal grants and assistance programs to promote sustainable aquaculture Across the country. Aquaculture is one of the most efficient ways to produce protein (like those found in dulse). It currently provides over 50% of all seafood consumed by humans.

Increasing diversity and inclusion in aquaculture reinforces traditional ways of cultivating sea life for food, while teaching the care and handling of algae. The inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge and practices enhances the success of these projects while providing leadership within the community.

“A number of algae traditionally important to Southeast Alaska have become harder to find, whether due to changes in ocean conditions or other factors. Land-based cultivation methods offer an alternative, and bringing these methods into the classroom helps excite children about the possibilities of seaweed aquaculture in our state,” said Alicia BishopNOAA Alaska Regional Aquaculture Coordinator.

Practical education

The tumbling culture was created using basic parts from a hardware store:

  • Action Packers
  • Five gallon buckets
  • Smaller perforated tube for bubbles
  • A chiller
  • PVC pipes
  • Lights
  • An air pump

With the addition of artificial seawater and nutrients, tumbling culture can mimic the marine environment. This makes it possible to grow dulse in the classroom, even far from the ocean. Drum cultures were built in Alaska Fisheries Science Center Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute then transported to Klukwan for classroom use. Students are responsible for near-daily upkeep and upkeep of the tanks, which includes adding nutrients, changing water, cleaning the tanks, and charting growth.

The students work with Ms. Hotch to collect seaweed, clean it in fresh water, and break it up for growth. Using artificial grow lights on a timer and keeping the water at 10 degrees Celsius mimics the ideal growth conditions for algae.

The program covers the life cycle and structure of dulse, comparing seaweed to land plants, and an art project creating bookmarks from pressed seaweed (a class favorite).

This program offers a hands-on approach to learning about a culturally significant species through its care and culture. It brings together community knowledge and research to educate a new generation about an important food source.

Share the bounty

Before going up to Klukwan, NOAA researchers shared the algae studies program with students from Juneau before their week of exploring the sea. The students enjoyed touching and smelling different types of algae and created additional seaweed bookmarks to share with their peers in Klukwan. Klukwan students collected and dried Ḵ’aach’ to share with community members. Ḵ’aach’ is a popular snack that can be dried on cookie sheets or fried with sugar for a sweet or savory treat.

Inspired Traditions for the Classroom

Students working with dulse in class.  Credit: NOAA Fisheries
Students working with dulse in class. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Low tides in May allowed Klukwan students to pick up seaweed to bring back to class. They also observed various marine species in the field, inspected different seaweed under the microscope, and learned about traditional seaweed harvesting from the elders. This field experience is an excellent basis for introducing the cultural significance of Ḵ’aach’ as ​​well as its importance as a subsistence food for the Tlingit and Haida.

The main objective of the project is to develop Ḵ’aach’ for students. A secondary objective is to transfer the knowledge explored in class to the Chilkat Indian Village and the Chilkoot Indian Association for the eventual development of commercial aquaculture and the sale of seaweed. Head teacher, Ms Hotch, defined the core values ​​of the program to align with the management of wild crops, community access to traditional foods for subsistence and ceremonies, income generation and education of young people .

Dr. Jordan Hollarsmithhead of aquaculture research at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, said, “Community collaborations ensure that our research meets the diverse needs of Alaskans, while also giving us the opportunity to learn from people who have harvested these species for generations.”

The hope is that this aquaculture project with native and coastal Alaskan communities will be adaptable to more classrooms. The success of the project will allow students to cultivate Ḵ’aach’ with or without access to seawater. The program will reach even more diverse communities to learn about drum cultivation methods while building knowledge and traditional practices.

Source: NOAA-Alaska Regional Office

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