Paper Recommendation: Seabirds as a subsistence and cultural resource in two remote Alaskan communities

Comment by Ine: Today we have a guest post by Rebecca Young from The University of Alaska Fairbanks. Rebecca is reporting on a recent paper we published together with Alexander Kitaysky and Courtney Carothers in Ecology and Society.

 By Rebecca Young

The problems facing small rural communities are well-documented. In the face of rapid social and ecological change role of local subsistence resources may change. In the Bering Sea, the Pribilof Islands house two small Aleut communities and hundreds of thousands of seabirds. Traditional Aleut culture relies on seabirds for materials, meat, and cultural practices. However, a history of cultural oppression and modernization within a dominant Western culture has changed the role of seabirds in these communities.

Alaskan Aleut dress parka, gutskin, auklet beaks, feathers, c. 1900.   http://danaenatsis.com/2012/06/14/a-helluva-town/

Alaskan Aleut dress parka, gutskin, auklet beaks, feathers, c. 1900.
http://danaenatsis.com/2012/06/14/a-helluva-town/

harvest of eggs in 1922 (pictured here) used to be very high. C. E. Crompton

harvest of eggs in 1922 (pictured here) used to be very high. C. E. Crompton

 

This paper investigates the relationship between the local residents and seabirds as a natural resource. We conducted a survey and interviews of residents of the two Pribilof Island communities, St. Paul and St. George, to assess opinions toward seabirds and harvest levels.

Seabirds were generally regarded as important both to individuals and the wider community. However, current levels of subsistence harvest are low, and few people continue to actively harvest or visit seabird colonies. Respondents expressed desire for greater knowledge about seabirds and also concerns about the current economy of the islands and a lack of future development prospects. Despite the challenging economic conditions, the villages retain a strong sense of community and place value on their environment and on seabirds. Surveys indicated an interest in developing eco-tourism based around local resources, including seabirds, as a way to improve the economy. Seabirds may strengthen ties to older ways of life and contribute to future economic opportunities, or modernization may direct interest away from seabirds as a cultural and economic resource. The future direction and degree of mutual reliance between seabirds and people on the Pribilofs depends on local investment of interest and capital.

View of the tall cliffs on St. George with breeding kittiwakes. Photo by Rebecca Young

View of the tall cliffs on St. George with breeding kittiwakes. Photo by Rebecca Young

Small village of St. Paul on the Bering Sea.

Small village of St. Paul on the Bering Sea.

If you are interested to read more about this research you can find the complete open access article here: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art40/

Citation: Young, R. C., A. S. Kitaysky, C. Carothers, and I. Dorresteijn. 2014. Seabirds as a subsistence and cultural resource in two remote Alaskan communities. Ecology and Society 19(4): 40. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07158-190440

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