"The fish we get donated will go to 13 school sites, Head Start, as well as meals for senior citizens in nine outlying communities this year. I'm just tickled to death," said Patty Luckhurst, director of school nutrition services at Dillingham.
Luckhurst made headlines last year when she single-handedly spearheaded a program to get locally caught salmon onto school lunch trays. She rallied local fishermen to donate the fish and Peter Pan Seafoods agreed to process it for free.
"Last year fishermen donated 8,000 pounds of red salmon and within three days I had 4,000 pounds of beautiful red fillets all individually vacuum sealed in the school freezer," Luckhurst said.
"Our part is the easy part," said Tom Whinihan, general manager at Peter Pan in Dillingham. "It's Patty and the fishermen out there who deserve the thanks."
Similar to last year, after the peak of the sockeye run Peter Pan will again designate tenders throughout the region and take salmon from any fisherman who wants to donate to the program.
Many smaller schools, like Dillingham, still make most meals from scratch and do their own baking. Luckhurst, a 20 year veteran of school kitchens, said high shipping costs to get fresh produce or proteins to remote regions can be prohibitive, adding that milk is now $8 a gallon.
"That's why it makes sense to purchase and prepare more foods locally. We saved at least $12,000 last year not buying fish nuggets or something else to have on the menu. That really spoke to the bottom line," Luckhurst said.
"Even if the fish wasn't donated, I believe the cost would be appropriate for us to buy it from here. And it behooves us to support our local fishermen all over the state. With all the reports about how healthy fish is and that we should all be eating more - with it right here there is no sense in bringing in processed stuff anymore," Luckhurst added.
"There is something wrong with a picture where you're importing farmed trout or other things when wild salmon is such a big part of their culture," echoed Whinihan. "It's great for the kids and the elders and all 'round."
"Plus, the kids love it," he added. "It's something they're proud of because for a lot of them, it's their dad out there catching that fish and they are real boastful of that. It's a really neat thing."
Both agree that other coastal Alaska communities should partner with local processors to provide fish to local schools and elder feeding programs.
"If I'm able to do this in Dillingham, why aren't other schools trying to do it in their communities?" Luckhurst said. "Those fish plants and processors are all a part of the community and they are so open to helping the schools when they can."
"You bet," said Peter Pan's Whinihan. "The benefits far outweigh everything in the big picture."
Alaska's leading lunch lady said she has more plans to enhance her area's healthy menus.
"I'm going to hit up local lodges for donations of caribou and moose."
Sun screen kills corals
All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the globe is causing major damage to ocean corals.
A study funded by the European Commission revealed that the mix of 20 compounds used to protect skin from the harmful rays of the sun causes rapid bleaching of coral reefs. Researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy added controlled amounts of three brands of sunscreen to water surrounding coral reefs in Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt. Even small doses caused huge discharges of the tiny algae that live within the coral colonies, providing nutrients and vibrant color. Complete bleaching occurred within 96 hours.
According to the World Trade Organization, nearly 10 per cent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with almost 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. The WTO estimates up to 6,000 tons of sun screen lotions are released into reef areas each year - and that close to 10 per cent of the world's coral reefs are at risk of sunscreen-induced bleaching.
While Alaska's deep sea corals face threats from ocean acidification, they are safer from sun screens. The seas surrounding the Aleutian Islands are believed to harbor the highest abundance and diversity of coldwater corals in the world. Unlike tropical corals, these corals do not form reefs but, assemble into dense gardens that can live hundreds of years. Because of the region's remoteness, Alaska's corals are just recently being explored.