Sun’aq Tribe Keeps a Close Eye on Habitat Around Runway Extensions

Red eye jellyfish. Flickr / Nathan Rupert
Red eye jellyfish. Flickr / Nathan Rupert

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak wants to know how the recently completed Kodiak Airport runway extensions are impacting marine life. If at all. Last month they wrapped up the study’s biological element for this summer.

Researchers examined the colonization of the armor rock the state installed to bolster the runway safety areas.

Tribal biologist Kelly Krueger says the Federal Aviation Administration completed an environmental impact statement before construction, and thanks to funding through the FAA, the Sun’aq Tribe has had more time to invest in making notes of the creatures found at the locations.

“We had three study sites and two reference sites out there and when the Kodiak airport released their environmental impact statement, they had one page on the species that they found during their surveys, and we were out there last month and we found so many different species.”

She says, for instance, they found creatures like feather-duster worms. According to the website of Washington State’s Slater Museum of Natural History, the worm uses its feathery head to trap food – the plankton that comes floating by. But that’s only one animal they observed.

“Once the visibility got better, we had people diving down there to do the sub-tidal colonizations and they found jellyfish everywhere, and the most frequent one was called the red-eye jellyfish. They were pretty small, but the base of them is just all red, so that’s how you know it’s a red eyed jellyfish.”

Krueger says the type of animals researchers find tell them about the age of the site.

“Some of these species show –different fish species –say that this site has been around for a long time, whereas other species, some kelp species and rockweed, the stuff that pops when you touch it, that’s kind of characteristic of a newer site that is starting to colonize.”

She says they’re trying to get a well-rounded view of how the airport might be influencing the environment, and the armor rock areas are quickly colonizing.

She says they’ll continue doing biological studies for the next three years to track colonization and see what species pop up.

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