09.12.16 | By Jessica Hanson

In the remote waters of the Bering Sea off the west coast of Alaska, a tiny community is trying to figure out how best to maintain their rich resources. St. George Island, the southern-most of the Pribilof Islands, is home to only about 80 residents - many of whom rely heavily on the island’s natural resources for cultural and subsistence purposes. To help the community plan resource protections, Earth Economics is conducting an economic assessment of St. George Island and its surrounding marine area.

The waters around St. George are highly productive – what researchers call the Bering Sea’s “green belt”. The area’s rich habitat for plankton means that it can also sustain abundant fish populations, which in turn support both fur seals and seabirds. The island is home to over 210 species of birds and a variety of marine mammals.

Residents rely on these resources - their well-being, livelihood, and culture depend on the availability for subsistence gathering and as a part of their rich cultural heritage. St. George’s residents are primarily native Unangans, and the island is a unique cultural stronghold. St. George’s historically abundant natural resources - seals, halibut, and various plants - are hugely important to residents, but these resources have faced increasing pressures. If the trend continues, its impact will have grave consequences for local culture, traditions, and lifestyles.

The St. George community wants to preserve their culture and maintain the area that sustains it, so this June, Earth Economics began working with St. George and Aleut International Association to conduct an economic assessment of St. George Island and its surrounding waters. The assessment focuses on the economic impacts and benefits of the natural marine resources around St. George Island.

Marine protection efforts could have a big impact on the community and area ecosystems. Implementing observation, research, and monitoring of the area could create much-needed jobs and increase spending within the community. Marine management can also help recover local wildlife populations and preserve ecosystem services such as habitat provision, nutrient cycling, biological control, and climate stability. The community may also benefit from tourism as visitors seek out protected areas.

These impacts are likely to have widespread effects. Marine protection can help sustain the vitality of the St. George community and benefit Alaska as a whole. People further afield will also benefit from climate regulation and preservation of species unique to this area. Marine protection is important if St. George is to preserve its natural resources and maintain the community’s rich culture. More observation, research, and monitoring will be needed to steward this abundant area. Earth Economics’ research is an important first step.

Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr