Alaska's raw, untamed wildness and unsurpassed natural beauty inspires awe around the world. The name alone sparks images of vast, unspoiled landscapes, of migrating caribou herds that stretch to the horizon, and the chance encounter with a grizzly bear.
But Alaska is much, much more. Nearly ringing the state are 34,000 miles of rugged, rocky coast that harbor unique and diverse ecosystems; lush rainforests in Southeast, windswept volcanic cliffs in the Aleutian Islands, mighty river deltas in the west; and ice-covered seas in the high Arctic.
And just as the gold-rush days of long ago drew adventure seekers to the Last Frontier, Alaska's wild coast and oceans draw a new generation of people yearning for adventure and challenge; a chance to live life to the fullest, not merely exist. If you're one of these people, and if you have an interest in the sea, the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences may be just the place for you.
Timeless connection to the sea
Aleut natives, a coastal fishing and hunting people who've lived in Alaska for thousands of years, refer to their beloved Aleutian Islands as "alaxsxaq." Roughly translated, it means "a land facing the sea." It's a truly fitting name for Alaska and its people, both indigenous and newcomers alike, because we all share an enduring relationship with the sea.
At more than 580,000 square miles, Alaska is larger than Texas and California combined. Unlike any other state, Alaska faces not one, but three seas: the North Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. From these seas, the state's coastal indigenous peoples continue centuries-old traditions.
More recently, and especially since World War II, Alaska has experienced a boom in population and economy. Much of this boom is centered on the sea, where Alaskans are united in an effort to conserve and wisely use the state's marine resources.
Alaska's population grew by 14 percent from 1990 to 2000, with the greatest population growth occurring in seaside communities. Since 1970, Alaska's population has more than doubled, to over 630,000 people.
Likewise, the state's economy has grown. By far the largest single industry is oil production. Alaska produces 18 percent of the nation's oil, all of it from the coastal zone at either Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast or Cook Inlet in the Gulf of Alaska. But the lifeblood of most small coastal communities is commercial fishing. Crab, salmon, halibut, pollock and blackcod of just a few of the species landed in Alaska. In all, some five billion pounds of seafood-more than half of all the seafood harvested in the nation-is caught in Alaska waters. Because of this, much of the marine research conducted by university, state, and federal scientists centers on better understanding the marine ecosystem in order to maintain healthy fish and crab stocks.
Tourism, another rapidly growing industry, rivals oil and commercial fishing in economic importance. Last year more than one million people visited the state. While visitors are an important and welcome part of the economy, they have impacts on the environment that must be understood and managed.
At the center of this quest for understanding are the faculty, staff and students of the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Together with state and federal agency researchers, SFOS is leading the way with scientific research, graduate student education and training, and outreach to the public.