Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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AK MARITIME: Reaching Out Over the Waters - Interpretation on the Alaska Ferry
Alaska Region, November 23, 2004
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Spotting whales, identifying seabirds, telling the story of the Aleutian campaign of World War II, and winning friends for the Refuge System are all part of a day's work for Doug Stuart, the only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service interpretive naturalist on the Alaska Marine Highway System. For 15 years, Alaska Maritime Refuge, has staffed the Southwest Alaska state ferry on trips lasting up to 8 days. These trips may cover 3500 miles, sail past 5 refuges, and call at 9 ports, three of which are refuge's headquarters. Tourists, cannery workers, village school teachers and local residents all rely on the state ferry in this very remote part of the world. Twice a week in the summer, our Refuge Naturalist ships out from the Homer headquarters of Alaska Maritime Refuge aboard the M/V Tustumena bound for Kodiak, home of Kodiak Refuge. Once a month, the ferry sails beyond Kodiak, down the Alaska Peninsula, past Becharof and Alaska Peninsula Refuges for a brief stop at Cold Bay (pop. 95). In Cold Bay winners of a shipboard lottery are treated to a prized guided bus tour of Izembek Refuge. The ferry then continues on to Dutch Harbor in the storm-swept, wildlife rich Aleutian Islands.

Through interpretive talks, demonstrations, slide shows, movies and shipboard conversations, Naturalist Stuart interprets the natural and cultural resources of this fascinating, remote region while promoting wildlife watching, introducing passengers to the refuges, and representing the Service. His 207 programs this year were attended by 7,200 listeners on 19 sailings.

Partnerships keep this unique program afloat. Funded by a Challenge Grant with Alaska's Marine Highway System, ferry outreach also relies on the Alaska Natural History Association to provide an on-board lending library and other refuges, Chambersnof Commerce, Native dancers, presenters, and even exceptional passengers to provide programs. The ferry program has proved to be a wonderful outreach tool for this far-flung, marine-oriented refuge. It provides a connection between the refuge, its lands and waters, and people.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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