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Exhibit will highlight human connections to Aleutians

July 14th, 2017 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

Sometimes, the most important things are the least obvious. An exhibit on display this summer in Unalaska will help shed light on one of the hidden resources of Alaska's environment, the underwater ecosystems where kelp forests provide the foundation of a vital component of Alaska's ocean environment.

"Underwater Forests of the Aleutians" opens this week at the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska and will remain on display through October. The traveling exhibit aims to teach visitors about the relationship between humans and these hidden environments on the Aleutian Islands. It documents how the ecosystem of coastal environments in the Aleutians support human communities dependent on the resources of the sea.

Brenda Konar, a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, said the exhibit presents these prominent ecosystems as a starting point.

"We also want to focus on the coastal waters that so many people rely on where kelp, sea otters and sea urchins have had a dynamic history," she said.

Konar said dense kelp forests are nurseries for fish and invertebrates that support nationally important commercial fisheries. The marine plants also protect shorelines from coastal erosion and even provide a direct food source in some areas.

The images and artifacts on display were selected to spark interest in the Aleutians and understand the diversity of nearshore environments, said Melissa Good, Alaska Sea Grant agent.

"The Aleutian Islands harbor this beautiful, dynamic and productive system that many people currently rely on but seldom can picture," Good said. "This exhibit brings people into the kelp forests and tells a story about our past and present."

Otter pelts, skulls, harpoon and spear artifact replicas and equipment that researchers use to study the region are featured in the exhibit, which was designed to be interactive.

Konar and Good have teamed with Museum of the Aleutians Director Virginia Hatfield; San Diego State University Professor Matthew Edwards, who specializes in temporal and spatial patterns in coastal marine communities; and archaeologists Mike Etnier, of the University of Washington, and Dixie West, of Kansas State University. Exhibit Alaska created the design and panels.

In October, the exhibit will move to St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands and from there, travel to other Aleutian communities and then around the state.

"We are excited that the exhibit will start at the Museum of the Aleutians, because these kelp forest ecosystems that the exhibit talks about are right in our visitors' backyards," Konar said. "But we also want to make sure people around the state have the chance to learn about this important ecosystem."


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