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Kayhi’s Ocean Bowl team buoyed: Coach, student share research for, and experiences at, Seward competition

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan High School’s National Ocean Sciences Bowl team member Remi Howe and coach Julie Landwehr, this past Friday at the Discovery Center, during a “Friday Night Insights” presentation, shared the team’s research for and experiences at the Tsunami Bowl in Seward.

On the last weekend of February, the Kayhi team of Anne Coss, Howe, Talisa McKinley, Caity Pearson and Laura Sherrill — “The Saber-Toothed Salmon” — won a first-place award at the event, earning them a spot at the national NOSB event in Washington, D.C., April 11 to 14.

Their research paper, titled, “Increasing the Efficiency of Monitoring Coliform Bacteria Levels in the Marine Environment around Ketchikan, Alaska,” earned a fifth-place spot earlier in February. Landwehr said that Alaska is the only state that offers a NOSB research paper competition.

Landwehr and Howe were the only representatives of the team at Friday’s event, as the other team members all were out of town, Landwehr said.

She said that two of the team members, Pearson and Sherrill, are kayak guides, and their close relationship with Ketchikan’s waters inspired them to learn more about monitoring water quality. Several times in the summer of 2018, locals were warned of unsafe levels of coloform bacteria present in area waters.

Landwehr explained that in their NOSB research presentation, the students described the basics of bacteria life cycles and how they are measured, as well as how bacteria can be examined as an indicator of water quality.

Landwehr said Coss created a video, which was shown as part of the research presentation, that describes how water-borne bacteria can affect people, even causing deaths.

Coss also was curious about where the bacteria blooms originated from, and spent much of her preparation time researching that.

“People have a lot in their conversation that cruise ships are to blame for the coloform bacteria, but she did a lot of research,” Landwehr said. “She really went to a lot of trouble to look up what’s going on with septic tanks and the grandfathering in of dumping it right into the ocean, and boats and harbors — and didn’t really find any evidence that it could be directly pointed toward the cruise ships.”

Landwehr displayed a photo from Coss’s presentation, which showed a sewer outfall pipe draining into the Tongass Narrows.

The students then introduced to the Tsunami Bowl judges, a new hand-held monitoring device called VeloCens, invented by two Iraqi students at the University of Alberta, Landwehr said. The water monitoring systems currently in use are bulky and take about 24 hours to give results. The VeloCens can give results in about an hour.

Landwehr said the university pair was motivated to create a better device “because they’re from Iraq, and there’s a lot of water quality issues there, and they really want to be able to take something back to Iraq and help people on the ground there.”

The university students were very gracious to the Kayhi team members, Landwehr said, offering information via distance about the monitoring device and explaining the ins and outs of water quality monitoring.

The Kayhi team designed a water quality monitoring platform that could be mounted on a nun buoy using simple robotics to change cartridges and parts. They also drew up a plan to use cellular technology to more easily track data without direct contact, Landwehr said.

After the 15-minute presentation in Seward was finished, Landwehr said that the judges were given time to ask questions of the students, followed by audience members asking questions. She said that is a critical part of the competition, as that is where the students can show how deep their true understanding of their topic is.

After Landwehr’s presentation Friday, Howe addressed the Discovery Center audience, describing her first year ever as part of the NOSB quiz bowl portion of the competition. In that portion, students answer marine science questions covering a vast array of oceanography topics, using buzzers in a fast-paced, question-and-answer style.

“It was so nerve-wracking,” Howe said. “I barely answered any questions, just because it goes so fast and you have to think on the spot, and you don’t want to get it wrong.”

Landwehr agreed that although the competition requires a good memory, a lot of studying and confidence, the ability to give answers quickly is critical. It takes a few years of practice, she added, so it’s usually the older students on the teams, with more experience at the competitions, who win.

The Kayhi team won first place, and Howe described it as a result, partly, of Coss’s experience. Coss knew, as the timer ticked down, that she had to act fast. Howe said Coss had put them in the winning spot by buzzing in before the last question was even finished being asked, and Coss answered correctly.

Audience member Kaley Burk asked if Howe could give an example of a quiz question.

Howe said a very simple one would be something like, “How much of the world is covered by the ocean?”

Landwehr said that other questions can range from asking about the average salinity of the world’s oceans, to historical questions about voyages, or climate change facts, or who is the most recent head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Most of the team’s information is gleaned from the textbook she uses in her oceanography class at Kayhi, Landwehr said, but she also shares videos and articles from other sources as the team prepares.

When the team competes in Washington, D.C., in April, Landwehr said the challenge will be different. Teams will be required to give a Science Expert Briefing before a panel of judges, in a venue set up to mimic a congressional hearing.

Each team member must present as a representative of five scientist types: federal, academic, industry, state and nongovernmental. There also is a requirement that each of the five types be an expert in a given variety of fields, such as academia, engineering or oceanographer.

Audience member, and Howe’s mother, Tara Howe asked, “How are you planning to prepare for that?”

Landwehr said that they will dive into preparations over spring break, which will begin March 15. She said that, as this is her first time in her nine years as a NOSB coach preparing a team for the national event, she will seek out partners to help. She said other Southeast coaches have offered to assist, as has Kayhi debate coach David Mitchel.

Despite the nerve-wracking aspect of the quiz bowl and the hard work of studying the science of oceanography and completing a research project, Remi Howe laughed as she described her approach to other Kayhi students when she talks about the team.

“I’ve been trying to recruit anybody who’s willing to listen to me talk about it,” she said. She added that she tells anyone she can, “‘You should join NOSB!’”