The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Unungan, have launched their own data accumulation project with the Inidgenous Sentinel Network Skipper Science App. The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island has been hiring sentinels for 20 years, now it is using an app to engage more volunteer sentinels – monitoring everything from water temperature to sea bird activity to the stomach contents of black cod.
“The data we’re collecting is meant to add to the existing science,” says Hannah-Marie Garcia, national coordinator for the Network. “But where they go out once a year, we have people that are out there every day.”
According to Garcia the tribe had been collecting data on marine mammals, particularly fur seals and stellar sea lions. “We collected that for our own tribal use,” she says. “NOAA was interested in that data so we moved it into a data base that they and our tribal members could access. Then people asked, 'Hey, can we use this for coastal erosion or migratory birds,' and it grew from there over the last few years. We’re getting experience-based observations from the true local knowledge holders.”
Garcia notes that the app guides contributors through the process of entering scientific data, and will create a baseline for future reference. “If there is a cataclysmic event we’ll have information to measure the impact.” The app also features a recording option for commentary. “We’re hoping that young people will use it with the elders to log some of that knowledge.”
Garcia also points out that having solid data will help fishermen and indigenous people in the regulatory process.
“In the past, anecdotal evidence and indigenous knowledge has always been relegated to the public comment period,” she says. “This gets us into the science side of the process.”
While St. Paul is a small island, the idea of using the community’s app to collect science is spreading. “We’re working with other tribes, communities, and universities all across Alaska,” says Garcia. “And we are hoping to move beyond Alaska and down the coast.”