Groundwater

Salmon

Peatlands

Marine

Ecology

Human

Dimensions

On the

radar

Groundwater

An essential but limited resource, our region’s groundwater is shared by fish and people. It moves through seeps and springs into the streams and wetlands that support our salmon, and it’s the primary source of the water we drink and businesses need to function. Together with partners including the University of Florida and local stakeholders, the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve has studied the region’s groundwater for decades.

Currently, we are exploring the following questions.

  • What is the role of groundwater in augmenting streamflow?
  • How does groundwater discharge vary over space and time?
  • What is the role of our region’s extensive peatlands in these processes?
  • How does groundwater feed Homer’s drinking water reservoir?
  • What role do beavers play in restoring the hydrology of our watershed?

For more information about this ongoing research, please contact Mark Rains or Kai Rains.

Birds eye perspective of people standing next to a stream.

Salmon

The connections between the lands of the Kenai Peninsula and its salmon can be found in the smallest headwater streams, the waters of Kachemak Bay, and everywhere in between. Together with fellow scientists, fisherman, and community members, we study the life and movement of salmon throughout our watershed. We share what we learn and encourage the stewardship needed to help people and salmon continue to coexist as they have for thousands of years.

Our research into what drives juvenile salmon productivity directly supports the state’s $595 million commercial fishing industry. We found that alders, peatlands, and groundwater flows on riparian and headwater streams all influence salmon habitat in the lower Kenai Peninsula. These influences were incorporated into a spatial tool that was used in case studies with user groups and in outreach efforts. 

Our past collaborations around science are informing the Salmon and Watershed Stewardship project, which seeks to bring us all together to understand and protect our salmon in a holistic way. Through this project, we are collaborating to monitor the intersection between salmon, watershed health, and human activity. In the process, we are creating a path for everyone to share their knowledge and collaborate to manage the watershed in ways that protect our salmon for the future. 

Groundwater in Kachemak Bay
Groundwater in Kachemak Bay

Peatlands

The Kenai Pennsula’s expansive peat wetlands, or peatlands, benefit people and the environment. They nourish salmon streams, moderate flooding, recharge groundwater, create barriers to wildfire, provide wildlife habitat, and store large amounts of carbon. Unfortunately, our peatlands are drying up, and as they do, their ability to provide these benefits decreases. In partnership with many organizations, the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve is committed to better understanding the role peatlands play in our environment and providing data and science to help decision makers better manage these special places.

Past research collaborations have focused on understanding the density and carbon content of Kenai Peninsula peatlands—critical information for those seeking to conserve peatlands in the future. Ongoing projects are exploring how we can conserve this resource and use nature-based solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

As a result of this work, the University of Alaska recently received $1,272,383 in federal funding to work with the Kachemak Bay Heritage Land Trust and the City of Homer to acquire and protect 55 acres of peatland. We’ve also begun to study the use of man-made structure designed to mimic the form and function of a natural beaver dam to slow the drying of wetlands.

Groundwater in Kachemak Bay

MARINE ECOLOGY

The Kachemak Bay area contains a variety of nearshore and estuarine habitats, including glacial and non-glacial watersheds, protected fjords, rocky shores, and mud flats. With its 28 foot tidal range, the coastal habitats of Kachemak Bay are particularly diverse and support much of the fish and wildlife that are important to our communities.

The Kachemak Bay Research Reserve partnered with NOAA and others to create maps of these habitats to inform resource management as well as basic research. This basic understanding is critical as we prepare for future changes—from oil spills to shifts in weather patterns. Approximately 301 miles of Kachemak Bay have been mapped.

Over the last decade, we’ve collaborated to better understand nearshore community structure and function in Kachemak Bay.

  • Clam Habitat Focus Area: Historically, culturally, and economically, clams play an important role in our communities. Unfortunately, their populations have been declining since the 1990s. This online platform for science and data was developed to help us all understand and manage butter clams, littlenecks, and cockles. For more information about this ongoing research, contact Marcus Geist.
  • Nearshore fish: Many areas in Kachemak Bay are nursery grounds for juvenile salmon, herring, and halibut. In addition to past studies in nearshore fish ecology, we monitor nearshore fishes at Coal Point, at the end of the Homer Spit, an area likely influenced by human impacts. We also contribute to the Fish Atlas of AlaskaFor more information about this ongoing research, contact Chris Guo.
  • Invasive species pose a serious threat to Alaska’s commercial and subsistence resources and the biodiversity of its marine ecosystems. Through early detection monitoring, we have observed natural fluctuations in diversity and abundance of native species in Kachemak Bay’s intertidal areas. These could be impacted by marine invasives or other disturbances, such as oil spills. As part of the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership, the Reserve contributes to keeping Alaska’s natural resources and landscapes wild and free from invasive species.
Groundwater in Kachemak Bay
A group of Chinook salmon under the water.
Groundwater in Kachemak Bay
Groundwater in Kachemak Bay

Human Dimensions

The reserve is a platform for social science and research into ecosystem services and human dimensions. We conduct projects using social science tools that support different sectors of the coastal economy including fisheries and mariculture, as well as partner with researchers on cultural ecosystem services.

Two people doing field work at the Kachemak Bay Reserve.

ON THE RADAR

As part of the University of Alaska’s Center for Conservation Science, the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve is committed to providing science and data to support biological conservation and natural resource management in Alaska and the Arctic. (Access more Reserve data on the Center’s website.)

Our continued collaboration with communities, academic institutions, resource management organizations, federal agencies, nonprofits, and others helps us identify and explore new avenues of research to advance the understanding and management of the region’s lands and waters.

As a member of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), we work with 29 similar sites and our partners at NOAA’s Office for Coastal management to generate science and tools that support estuary management and education nationwide.

Through the NERRS Science Collaborative, a nationally competitive science funding program, we facilitate research funding to address the most critical questions articulated by Kachemak Bay communities and scientists.

Are you interested in collaborating with us on research? Contact us

Two people doing field work at the Kachemak Bay Reserve.