This story originally appeared in the fall 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Harker student Dolan Dworak, grade 8, and upper school biology teacher Kate Schafer set off for the Alaskan coastline in early June as part of Expedition GYRE, a joint project between the Alaska SeaLife Center and the Anchorage Museum that brought a team of scientists and artists together to examine the effects of marine debris on the environment and wildlife.
Using the research performed during the expedition as a guide, 20 artists will assemble an art exhibition that will be on display at the Anchorage Museum starting February 2014.
During the expedition Dworak, who previously spent three years working with Sea Scavenger Conservancy in San Francisco, was responsible for posting updates on social media about the group’s discoveries. He also learned a great deal about marine life. “Every day I was taken behind the scenes to meet animals in residence and recently rescued animals such as otters and seals,” he said. “Sometimes I got to handle the animal to learn how to feed it and take care of it.”
One animal in particular surprised him: “I learned that octopuses are amazingly interactive and curious. One octopus tried to eat my camera!”
Schafer helped develop the educational portion of the exhibition, and was pleased to be included among such a stellar team. “[Expedition leader] Howard Ferren brought together such a talented and diverse group of expedition members,” she said. “It was so great to be a part of the discussions around the topic of marine debris that began upon our arrival in Anchorage and will continue far into the future. I truly felt honored to have the opportunity to be a part of such a unique event.”
Reflecting on the issue of marine debris, Schafer said that reducing and possibly eliminating the use of single-use plastic containers, redesigning these containers to reduce their environmental impact and devising ways to minimize the amount of waste reaching the oceans are all crucial to solving the problem. “The challenge of controlling marine debris is a large and complex issue,” she said. “A huge investment of resources is needed to address the problem once garbage actually enters the ocean.”
Dworak found the whole experience inspiring and it further motivated him to continue his work to help clean the oceans. “I was inspired by everyone on the team and by the people who supported the team, and I hope to inspire others to care for the oceans and the sea life,” he said. “Our consumption is causing severe damage to the ocean and we need to stop using and disposing of plastics before it’s too late.”