Bering Science

Winter 2020/2021

The Bering Sea is experiencing many changes. Loss of sea ice and record high ocean and air temperatures continue to impact wildlife and all aspects of life for coastal communities. The Bering Region Ocean Update project began in spring 2020, in part, to increase regional data sharing among federal, state, community and private sector partners. This is the third report. Read previous updates and learn how information is gathered and reviewed at https://aoos.org/beringregion. We provide a resource to state, federal, community and university partners to share recent observations with community members and other scientists and management agencies. If you gather data or have observations of changes in the Aleutians, Bering Sea or southern Chukchi Sea contact us for possible inclusion in a future Bering Science report..

COVID-19 impacts

2020 was a challenging year, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, many different groups collect data on everything from salmon populations, to water chemistry, to seabird breeding success in the Bering Sea. These monitoring efforts provide critical data on the health of the Bering Sea ecosystem and allow us to track how it is changing.

In 2020, non-local scientists could not travel to rural communities because of COVID-19. Many surveys, including several NOAA research cruises, were canceled. US Fish and Wildlife Service was unable to conduct seabird research. Even so, information gaps were filled through collaboration with community and research partners and using new innovative technologies.

Ecosystem Status Reports

In this publication we share many findings originally compiled for the NOAA Ecosystem Status Reports. These yearly reports describe the status of the Alaska marine ecosystems. Along with fishery stock assessments, they are used by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to inform commercial fishing quotas in federal water.

In recent years, Ecosystem Status Reports began including diverse types of information. Communities and Tribes now contribute local and traditional knowledge and help define new indicators of ecosystem health. With many NOAA research activities canceled in 2020, local-scale community observations were particularly critical to the reports as were the addition of satellite-derived indicators. REPORT ecosystem observations in your community to the Ecosystem Status Report editors listed on page 16 or through regional channels.

Dennis Davis from Shishmaref captured this photo of a storm eroding the road to the community dump on November 6, 2020. See more pictures of climate change impacts in Shishmaref on Dennis’s Instagram account @eskimofixer.
Dennis Davis from Shishmaref captured this photo of a storm eroding the road to the community dump on November 6, 2020. See more pictures of climate change impacts in Shishmaref on Dennis’s Instagram account @eskimofixer.

Who are we?

This report is part of the Alaska’s Changing Environment series. It was compiled by the Alaska Ocean Observing System and the International Arctic Research Center with collaboration from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Community Advisory Board

We thank our advisory board for providing direction, suggestions for content and feedback.

  • Chandra Poe, Qawalangin Tribe Of Unalaska

  • Connie Melovidov, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Inc.

  • Erica Lujan, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

  • Jennifer Hooper, Association of Village Council Presidents

  • Lauren Divine, Ecosystem Conservation Office at Aleut Community of St. Paul Island

  • Mellisa Johnson, Bering Sea Elders Group

We also thank our reviewers who provided valuable input on this publication.

Suggested citation

Prewitt, J. and H. R. McFarland, editors. Bering Science: Winter 2021 Bering region ocean update, Issue 3 [newsletter]. Alaska Ocean Observing System, Anchorage, Alaska.

Feedback

Your opinion is valuable to us and can help guide future reports. Please provide feedback by filling out an online survey.

Meet a contributor

Island Sentinels of Saint Paul

Paul Melovidov and Aaron Lestenkof survey a beach for seabird carcasses. Photo by Hillary Burgess.

What do you do?

Paul Melovidov and Aaron Lestenkof are Indigenous Island Sentinels for the Aleut Community of St. Paul Tribal Government Ecosystem Conservation Office. “As Sentinels we’re on the front lines, witnessing the changes in our environment,” said Paul, Sentinel Coordinator. “With data collection we are able to better understand what’s happening with our ecosystem.” They contributed data to the Pribilof Islands seabird section.

What do Island Sentinels monitor?

As Island Sentinels, Paul and Aaron gather impressively diverse data on everything from seabirds, to reindeer to erosion. Their regular surveys of Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, harbor seals, sea ducks, gulls and reindeer help track population sizes and Indigenous harvest activities. They also highlight changes, like a recent shift in seabird behavior. “The seabirds that usually migrate when it gets cold this time of year, we’re starting to see them stick around a little longer,” said Aaron.

Monitoring beaches for stranded marine mammals and dead seabirds that might be an indication of mass die-offs is another important aspect of the Sentinels’ work. On rookeries and marine mammal habitats they help organize semi-annual marine debris clean ups, which average about 20,000 pounds of debris per event. Their stewardship helps keep marine mammal rookeries and haul outs clear of plastics. Adjusting to the ever changing environment, the Sentinels also recently began testing for harmful algal blooms and are instrumental in preventing rats, which have decimated bird populations on some Aleutian Islands, from reaching the island.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen recently?

According to Paul, climate change and over fishing have changed St. Paul Island over the past ten years. “You’re looking at a decline in marine mammals, northern fur seals and Steller sea lion. You’ve got mass die-offs of migrating birds. Migrating birds not returning back to the island... Decline of halibut and crab in the Bering Sea... Sea ice normally would come down to the Pribilof Islands, now we’re barely seeing sea ice come down to the islands at all. Less winter snow and more gale force wind storms through fall and winter months. Lastly, there is more marine debris on our beaches and shorelines.” Many of these changes are impacting the entire Bering Sea region and Paul and Aaron emphasized that communities are not alone, they are in this together.

Learn more about Paul and Aaron’s work on their Facebook page.

Fish biologist

Meet Dr. Katie Howard from Anchorage. She contributed the salmon information for the fish section of this report.

What do you study?

I’m a fisheries scientist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I study the marine life of salmontrying to understand how these big questions around climate change, carrying capacity in the ocean and competition among species may influence Alaskan salmon and our fisheries, and how we can use this knowledge to inform decisions about our fisheries.

Why do you do the work you do?

Fish and fisheries are important to people. They represent food, livelihoods, a lifestyle and are integral to people’s cultures. Growing up, I always wanted to use whatever skills and talents I had to help people — being a fisheries scientist who can discover and share information that helps people make decisions about their fisheries is how I’ve found I can do that. Fish and the natural world are also amazing, which makes it easy to be passionate about my work.

What is the most rewarding/interesting thing about your work?

There is so much that is interesting about salmon in the Bering Sea, I wouldn’t even know where to start! Easily the most rewarding thing about my work is the people. I am very fortunate that I get to work with and interact with incredible scientists, fishermen, stakeholders, boat crews, students and communities almost every day. I learn something new every time, and I’ve met some truly inspiring people along the way.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Learn more about salmon in the ocean, share ideas, insights, or get information – check out our Facebook page.

Climate trends
Fall storms
Erosion & floods
Salmon
Walleye pollock
Crab
Ocean acidification
Plankton
Harmful algal blooms
Gray whales
Ice seals
Marine debris
Seabirds
Want to learn more?