Kayaking in the icy waters in inner Shoup Bay, taking an exhilarating hike on Worthington Glacier, and encountering all kinds of wildlife, I had truly experienced many of the wonders Alaska had to offer. From a scholarship provided by Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant for Prince William Sound Science Center’s Ocean Science Leadership Expedition program, I explored and discovered Alaska’s beautiful wilderness and wildlife. During the program, I learned about ocean phenomena, the wildlife of Alaska, and oil spills, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill that affected the Prince William Sound ecosystem.
Alaska was truly incredible. As I kayaked before Shoup Glacier, I saw huge chunks of ice calve from the glacier with a rumbling echo and splash in the water below. Once a majestic bald eagle soared in the sky only a short distance away, and sightings of sea otters and seals were always a treat. Seeing the magnificent wildlife in a breathtaking, picturesque view of clean blue water and green mountains left me in awe. I had only seen such animals in captivity. However, seeing these animals in the wild felt like a barrier was gone. During an encounter with a sea otter, there seemed to be a mutual respect between us. Inspired from the beauty of it, I was reminded of exactly what people are protecting when they take measures to prevent pollution and clean up oil spills. Oil spills and other pollution that affects the environment should never be taken lightly because these pollutions damage the environment more than people can imagine.
From the mock oil spill scenario, I realized how frustrating clean-up can be because one has to track the spill and decide on what methods to use to contain and clean the spill. When any organism is hurt, the delicate balance of the ecosystem is disturbed, and as a result, other animals are affected as well. Recovery is a slow and complicated process, and oil has still been found in Prince William Sound from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. I was especially shocked when I learned that an oil spill clean-up is considered successful when not even a majority of the spill has been cleaned. Keeping the environment clean and healthy should never be ignored. If oil is not cleaned up soon after a spill, currents and storms can mix the oil with air and water to form emulsions that are even more difficult to clean.
From my 10 days in Alaska, I have become even more appreciative and respectful of the environment, and I look forward to reaching out to others and educating them about protecting the environment.
Sallie is a student at Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi.