Demonstrating the global importance of the Bering Strait
Melanie Smith grew up in a family that has farmed the same land in Michigan for 160 years, and as a child was forever out in the woods birding, fishing, camping, and canoeing. As a young adult, she moved to Southeast Alaska, where she almost immediately knew she wanted to spend her life studying the environment and protecting wild places in this state. After studying ecology, natural history, and environmental policy at Prescott College in Arizona, and geography and wildlife biology in grad school at the University of Montana, she returned to The Last Frontier state and joined the science team at Audubon Alaska.
Among Melanie’s credits at Audubon is lead authorship of a Habitat Conservation Strategy for the National Petroleum Reserve, which provides for balanced resource management while maintaining an important area for birds, caribou, and polar bears in the north of the state. She has also authored an Arctic Marine Synthesis: a report and atlas of maps detailing wildlife use in the U.S., Canadian, and Russian Arctic Ocean used widely by scientists and policymakers.
Melanie plans to use her TogetherGreen fellowship to launch a project that will focus on the ecological preservation of the Bering Strait, a 50-mile-wide passage that is the only connection between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, and an attractive global shipping route as the Northwest Passage becomes increasingly ice free. This marine bottleneck is teeming with life, including several million seabirds, hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, and many Native communities. Her project will identify Areas of Concern in the region to protect wildlife populations from disturbance and to help ensure that Native subsistence fishing and hunting is not disrupted by increased shipping activity.
“Summarizing all of this information in one place will enable scientists, decision-makers, and communities to better understand the dynamics of the Bering Strait,” she explained. “It will identify important places, mitigate threats, and work toward conservation.”