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Expedition Log: August 13, 2001

Karin Holser

This log describes Karin Holser's activities on both August 12 and 13 in the Pribilof Islands. She serves as the coordinator from the Pribilof Islands Stewardship Program and was an overnight guest aboard the Clipper Odyssey.


St. George and St. Paul Islands, Pribilofs

August 12, 2001 was a foggy morning, not unusual for the Seal Islands of the Bering Sea. It was 8:30 a.m. and word spread through the village that the Clipper Odyssey was putting down anchor. This was not just another cruise ship coming to see our island, St. George; it was the Harriman Expedition Retraced. We had waited in anticipation for this day, and wanted it to be a great day. Soon people would be coming ashore to see our island and village (named "St. George" by the Russians over two hundred years ago).

rock pile

Example of the rocky terrain traversed by Harrriman Retraced hikers on St. George. This pile of rocks is a trail marker to help navigate in such an isolated, and often foggy, area. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Villagers rushed around to get the only three vans on the island to east Landing to greet the first group of hardy hikers. We then shuttled the hikers to the trail-head for High Bluffs - a one thousand foot cliff that comes straight up out of the Bering Sea and is home to thousands and thousands of red-legged kittiwakes, common and thick-billed murres, and arctic foxes that patrol the cliffs. We were concerned that the hikers would not have a good time because of the fog, but at noon when we went back to pick them up they were cheery and impressed with what they saw, despite the fog. Once the hikers were on the trail, others were shuttled to the seal blind situated above a part of a northern fur seal rookery. The Pribilof Islands are home to around 80% of the world's northern fur seals. Right at our feet we watched pups nursing, learning to swim, sparring -- practicing to be beach masters. We also observed big beach masters defending their territory. Some visitors toured the Historic Seal Plant. This building housed operations from the commercial sealing days. The St. George Traditional Council is in the process of developing a business plan to use the Seal Plant as a Living Interpretive/Cultural Center, where the history of the islands, the Unangan (Aleuts), and the wildlife can be told. In the afternoon after Father Deacon Andronik had completed the morning service, he gave tours of our beautiful Russian Orthodox Church.

seal on rocks

Fur seal on rocky shore as seen from the seal blind at St. George. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Six young people and four adults from our island were invited to board the cruise ship and share lunch. It was a wonderful experience for our young people. They had a great time and enjoyed meeting the young people on board. They did not want to leave the ship, or the elevator. Yes, the biggest hit for the island kids was going up and down in the elevator. We don't have such things on the island.

I was honored to be one of the ten people from the community who was invited to board the Clipper Odyssey as a dinner guest. It was a very impressive dinner and was a nice way to meet some of the people traveling on the expedition. I then said good-by to my friends--that is my friends from St. George -- because I was given the opportunity to ride with the Clipper Odyssey to St. Paul Island, about forty miles north of St. George, the other inhabited island of the Pribilof Islands. I had been asked to give a talk about the Pribilofs, but the young people on board were having a pizza/movie night and so there was no place for a formal presentation. Instead, I got the opportunity to speak to people one on one.

Because I work with the Pribilof Islands Stewardship Program (a program that works with the young adults and kids on both Pribilof Islands), I was very interested in getting to know the young people on the ship. After the movie was over, I spent some time with the five students. They showed me their website, and told me about the different projects. One young lady asked to interview me for her project, and we ended up talking late into the night.

group of students

Group of students from both St. Paul and the Clipper Odyssey. They spent a busy day together on St. Paul. (Photo by Karen Holser).
Click image for a larger view.

The Pribilof Island Stewardship Program is a community-supported program providing mentorship opportunities, outdoor education and recreation programs, and cultural awareness for the young people of St. Paul and St. George Islands. It fosters a stewardship ethic in our young people, and their efforts set the standard for the rest of the community. Last year Busch Gardens honored four young people with an environmental award for their beach clean up efforts. Their efforts yielded a 40-foot van full of nets, ropes, and other debris picked up off our shores. The program has also been awarded a World Wildlife Fund Award for Conservation Merit. So it is an honor to work with these young stewards of our islands.

Morning came with the sound of the anchor being lowered, and I knew we were just outside the harbor on St. Paul Island. I was not sure how many young stewards from St. Paul would actually be getting up in time to get down to the small floating dock by 6:30 a.m., but to my surprise there were six smiling faces getting off the Zodiac. They came aboard, ate breakfast, toured the ship, and had fun on the bridge asking questions of the crew. One young lady asked what a horned shaped object was, and the crewmember answer "to speak with the man up stairs." Her quick sense of humor came out instinctively and she said "Wow, they speak with God!" We all burst out laughing. As much as our young stewards wanted to explore the ship, the young people from on board were anxious to go ashore (undoubtedly because I said they could go kayaking in an Iqyak - an Aleut kayak- that some of the students at school had built).

4 wheeler

Two of the students riding a four wheeler, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), on St. Paul. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

Once ashore we took the crew of young people to the only gift shop on the island, to the city hall to get a St. Paul pin, and to the seal blind at Reef Rookery. As we were getting the kayaks out, a St. Paul youngster said he wanted to ride one of the four-wheelers. Well, all the eyes of the visiting young people lit up. So, we pulled out four wheelers and the kids from the island taught the visitors how ride the four wheelers up and down the village cove sandy beach. We eventually got one of the Iquak's out and the kids paddled it up and down the salt lagoon channel. The morning went by quickly and we were heralded back to the ship for lunch. When it came time to leave and go ashore, I did not want to leave these wonderful young people and the folks on board the Clipper Odyssey.

iquak

Megan Litwin, Young Explorer, paddles in an Iqyak - an Aleut kayak - that some of the St. Paul students had built. (Photo by Devon Ducharme).
Click image for a larger view.

I had a truly wonderful experience getting to know people from the expedition. Being able to share first hand about life on the Pribilof Islands with visitors of the Clipper Odyssey was a privilege. People on St. George were very impressed by the interest being shown about their island, its environment, and their culture. The organizers of the Harriman Expedition Retraced did a wonderful job of trying to bridge the Pribilofs and the travelers. Thank you for the opportunity to share in the experience.

(View the day's photos)

(Community Profile: St. Paul)

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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