On July 13-17, twenty children from the Makah Tribe attended their first junior scientist camp on the beaches of their reservation along the outer Washington coast. Campers from age 5 to 14 joined NOAA Fisheries scientists and their collaborators to learn more about the toxins that impact their marine resources, particularly shellfish.
Shellfish are an important subsistence food for the Makah and other Pacific Northwest tribes, yet outbreaks of harmful algal blooms can result in beach closures, threaten human health, and devastate tribal economies.
“What a great opportunity this was for the tribe [and] for our future leaders to learn how to use scientific equipment by some of the top leaders in this field,” said Vince Cooke, environmental manager for the Makah Tribe.
Multi-media lectures, fieldwork sampling of shellfish and plankton, arts and crafts, games, and a closing ceremony added a colorful dynamic to the program. Campers participated in a simulated outbreak of human illness from harmful algal blooms. Through role play, they learned how to manage the various aspects of a rapid response situation and develop procedures for illness prevention in the future. Children also learned safe laboratory procedures as they wore white lab coats, safety goggles, and gloves when they handled and tested samples. The lessons included creating phytoplankton T-shirts, and learning about toxins, proteins and DNA through interactive demonstrations, experiments and even an energetic rap music video.
“I liked the phytoplankton talk. I did not know phytoplankton were plants. I just thought they were floaty things or a cartoon,” said a 9-year old camper.
One excited 10-year old camper commented while looking at phytoplankton under the microscope, “This is so cool! I think I could totally be a scientist.”
After a week of camp, the Makah children could identify harmful algal blooms and had an opportunity to educate their parents and family members about toxins impacting our Washington waters.
“This was the first time some of our children have even looked through a microscope, and definitely not the last,” said Cooke.
“I do not see this as an ending,” agreed Makah Tribal elder Edie Howe. “I see this as a beginning for our children and our tribe.”
The lead scientists who developed the pilot science camp program include Dr. Vera Trainer , Dr. Alison Robertson , and Nicolaus Adams (Northwest Fisheries Science Center), and Dr. Lynn Grattan (University of Maryland School of Medicine).
Support was provided by the West Coast Center of Oceans and Human Health through the Oceans and Human Health Initiative, the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences, the NOAA CSCOR ECOHAB program, and an undergraduate scholar from the NOAA Hollings program. This work builds upon previously-funded NOAA ECOHAB and MERHAB outreach projects on the outer Washington coast.
Learn more about the NWFSC’s Harmful Algal Bloom Program.