Category Archives: News

June 10, 2019

As some sea star populations make a comeback, scientists may have found cause of ‘wasting disease’

One of a few Leptasterias sea stars, known as the six-rayed star, to be found outside of ecologist Brenda Konar’s survey plots. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)

Along the West Coast, there are signs that sea stars are recovering from a wasting disease epidemic that began around 2013. Stars suffering from the disease literally melt away within 48 hours of the first sign of sickness.

Scientists once thought it was caused by a virus or another pathogen, but now they think it may actually be another sign of climate change.

University of Alaska Fairbanks ecologist Brenda Konar and her graduate students begin to survey a beach on a small island in Kachemak Bay. They’re here to count sea stars and other intertidal plants and animals.

To read the full article by KTOO Public Media see:

June 3, 2019

NewsWave Special Feature: GWA Long-Term Monitoring of Nearshore Marine Ecosystems

Researchers conduct a marine bird and mammal survey along the Kenai Fjords, AK. Photo credit: J. Pfeiffenberger, NPS (Newswave, Spring 2019).

The Gulf Watch Alaska’s Long-Term Monitoring of Alaska Nearshore Ecosystems project was featured in both the spring and summer 2019 issues of the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Newswave, a quarterly newsletter from the DOI featuring ocean, Great Lakes, and coastal activities across the Bureaus. The spring 2019 issue included two special feature stories: Long-Term Monitoring of Nearshore Marine Ecosystems: Gulf of Alaska 30 Years Since Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (p. 15) and Seabird Die-Offs are Becoming More Extreme (p. 16), both written by Heather Coletti (NPS and GWA researcher).

The articles discuss the role of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s long-term monitoring program in providing foundational information for ecosystem-scale understanding of not only the effects of the spill but also for detecting other patterns of environmental change. Through the Alaska Nearshore Ecosystems project, researchers have closely monitored the recovery of marine bird and seabird species impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Many seabirds rely heavily on habitats and prey associated with the marine nearshore ecosystem. These species are top-level consumers of fish and marine invertebrates, such as mussels, clams, snails, and limpets. Because of these characteristics, these birds are good indicators of change in the marine ecosystem.

Through this monitoring, one of the largest and most extensive seabird die-off episodes in Alaska ever recorded was witnessed (i.e. murres in the Gulf of Alaska in 2015–16). This event, along with several other die-offs in Alaska, are concurrent with above-average sea surface temperatures in the region, which could have resulted in starvation due to shifts in the seabird food supply among other changes.

A photo of Heather and the Alaska Nearshore Ecosystems project team conducting a marine bird and mammal survey can be seen in the summer 2019 photo edition (p. 13).

May 18, 2019

GWA Shares With Seldovia About ‘What’s Up in Kachemak Bay?’

On May 17, Gulf Watch Alaska scientists met with Seldovia residents to share information about marine ecosystem observations in Kachemak Bay. Researchers Kris Holderied and Dominic Hondolero (NOAA-NCOS Kasitsna Bay Lab), Brenda Konar and Danielle Siegert (UAF SFOS), and Ben Weitzman and Kim Kloecker (USGS) gave short presentations ranging from ocean temperature variation, to intertidal organisms, and sea otter populations. The presentations were followed by over two-hours of lively conversation by the Seldovians, who discussed their own observations and curiosities about their ‘backyard’ Bay. This event was co-organized with Ground Truth Trekking, as part of their ongoing climate change community conversation series.

April 2, 2019

Quarterly Currents vol 2.4

The latest version of the Quarterly Currents v2.4 (Novmeber 1, 2018 to January 31, 2019) newsletter is now available. The Gulf Watch Alaska (GWA) program progressed through the 4th quarter of monitoring year 7 with a
few hiccups due to the federal government shutdown. The GWA management team and affected Principal Investigators (PIs) are playing catch-up. The biggest impact to the program affected the timing of submission of our annual reports; to accommodate for the time lost, we received a one-month extension on the deadline. We appreciate the EVOSTC staff for understanding the situation. Read this lastest summary of our program’s fourth quarter activities and accomplishments.

February 27, 2019

30th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: March 24, 2019

The 30th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill is on March 24, 2019. To commemorate this anniversary a series of public outreach events and products have been made available. These materials made be used by venues in and out of the spill-impacted region and to raise awareness. The EVOS Trustee Council extends it appreciation to all those who contributed their time and expertise to these excellent products.

A SHORT FILM“Listening to the Sound: The work of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council” (approx. 18 min). This film includes historic footage of the spill, new interviews and information on the scientific and habitat work funded by the Trustee Council since the spill.

A SOCIAL MEDIA CLIP based on the short film is being produced and will be available on the EVOSTC webpage at a later date.

A POSTER available for display alongside the film or media clip is available here.


Additional information about a TRAVELING DISPLAY and HOSTING VENUES are available on the EVOSTC Website. The EVOSTC office can be contacted (907-278-8012) about borrowing a display for your organization.  A collection of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill materials, FAQs, links, and resources has also been compiled by the Alaska Resources Library and Information Services (ARLIS).

February 6, 2019

‘In Hot Water’, Science magazine features Blob impacts in the Gulf of Alaska

In a recent article published in the journal Science, reporter Warren Cornwall writes:

Five years after an unusual pattern of warm water started to form in the Gulf of Alaska, scientists are starting to understand the sweeping ecological impacts of an underwater heat wave that became known as The Blob. From tiny algae to humpback whales, the warm patch of water that eventually stretched across much of the west coast of North America touched virtually every level of the ecosystems there. Although the Blob has now faded, its effects continue to be felt. This research comes at a time of growing scientific interest, and mounting concern, about these underwater heat waves. Scientists now predict they will become more intense, more frequent, and longer lasting over this century, because of climate change. Blob-like temperatures are expected to become the new normal in the northeast Pacific Ocean by midcentury.”

The article spotlights Blob-related findings from the GulfWatch Alaska program for copepods (PI: Russ Hopcroft), forage fish (PI: Mayumi Arimitsu), and seabirds (PI: John Piatt), as well as includes research from program partners at NOAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The article can be accessed at:  Cornwall, In Hot Water Science 363 (6426) 10.1126/science.363.6426.442 (2019).

February 1, 2019

30 years later, researchers are still learning from the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Photo credit: Kristen Durand

The Exxon Valdez oil spill that happened almost 30 years ago has left a scientific legacy in the marine science research field that’s now being used as a powerful research tool to evaluate the impact of other spills around the world.

At the 2019 Alaska Marine Science Symposium, a session was held to examine how these observations informed the understanding of more recent oil spills, like the 2007 Hebei Spirit spill in South Korea and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

To read the full KTUU article visit:

December 5, 2018

Quarterly Currents vol 2.3

The latest version of the Quarterly Currents v2.3 (August 1, 2018 to November 1, 2018) newsletter is now available. The program submitted FY19 Work Plans to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC) in August and recommendations by the Science Review Panel, Science Coordinator, Public Advisory Committee, and the Trustees were to fully fund all projects including some additional unfunded needs. This long-term ecosystem level monitoring program stands out as a hallmark for Alaska providing a wealth of information to the scientific community, resource managers and the public. We greatly appreciate the EVOSTC support and positive feedback. Read this latest edition for a summary of the third quarter activities and accomplishments.

September 21, 2018

In Alaska, Starving Seabirds and Empty Colonies Signal a Broken Ecosystem

In 2016, tens of thousands of Common Murres washed up dead on beaches lining the Gulf of Alaska. Several more mass seabird die-offs have occurred in the region since then. Photo: Mark Thiessen/AP

Mass die-offs and breeding failures, now ongoing for years, have marine biologists worried that this is a new normal caused by climate change.

To read the full Audubon article which features  some Gulf Watch Alaska and Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER scientists visit:

August 9, 2018

Quarterly Currents vol 2.2

The latest version of the Quarterly Currents v2.2 (May 1, 2018 to July 31, 2018) newsletter is now available. The Gulf Watch Alaska program has sailed through the second quarter of year 7. Field work was the dominant theme this quarter, which started out blustery and cool in May and early June but warmed up in July. Read this latest edition for a summary of the program’s summer activities and accomplishments.