NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Van Arsdale
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 3–14, 2018
Mission: Bering Sea Juvenile Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Dutch Harbor, Alaska
Date: August 13, 2018
Latitude: 61.3293° N
Longitude: 149.5680° W
Air Temperature: 56° F
Sky: Rain (typical weather for August in AK)
My name is Mark Van Arsdale. I am a high school teacher in Eagle River, Alaska. Eagle River is a bedroom community just outside of Anchorage. At ERHS, I teach AP Biology, Forensic Science, Oceanography, and Marine Biology. I will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a participant in the 2018 NOAA Teacher at Sea program.
It’s raining right now, and I am sitting in my kitchen contemplating the start of the new school year next week and the start of a new adventure next month. In three weeks I will fly from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to join the scientists and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Even though I will never leave the state, I will fly 796 miles, the same distance as flying from New York to Chicago. Alaska is an incredibly large state, almost 600,000 square miles of land and 34,000 miles of coastline. My adventure will take me into the Bering Sea. Although I have never been there, I have a connection to the Bering Sea. Like many other Alaskans’, much of the salmon and other seafood my family eats spends all or part of its lifecycle traveling through the rich waters of the Bering Sea.
Alaska and Alaskans are highly dependent on the oceans. Commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea produces more groundfish (pollock, cod, rockfish, sablefish, and flatfish) than any other place in the country, close to 2 million metric tons per year. In 2013 that was valued at over $2 billion. Fishing is consistently Alaska’s top non-government employer and after oil, seafood represents our largest export. Thousands of residents participate every year in subsistence fishing, and hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Alaska each year, many with the hopes of catching a wild salmon or halibut (facts from the Alaska Sea Grant).
My classroom is less than five miles from the ocean (Cook Inlet Estuary), yet many of the students I teach have never seen the ocean. They may not know the importance of the ocean to our state. When I teach Oceanography and Marine Biology, I work very hard to connect my students to both the science and industry of the oceans. Not just so that my students can understand what kind of work that scientist and fishermen do, but also so that they will understand the value of the work do.
I have been in the classroom for twenty years, and in the last few years I have seen more and more students entering my classroom who see no value in science. Science matters! The oceans and our relationship to the oceans matter! I am hopeful that working on board the Oscar Dyson with a team of scientists is going to help me make those connections better.
Have I mentioned yet that I love fish? I love to study fish, teach about fish, catch fish, cook fish, eat fish, watch fish. So I am pretty excited about spending two weeks on a research cruise dedicated to fish research, and working with some of the Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.