Cooper Island, Alaska, July 9, 2009 — This year, an ambitious “Around the Americas” expedition will attempt to have their sailboat, Ocean Watch, negotiate the Northwest Passage as part of their program to conduct research and also raise public awareness of the state of the oceans. They departed Seattle in early June and will circumnavigate both North and South America in 13 months. Ocean Watch is leaving Nome this week, and will be in Barrow on July 11. You can follow their progress at their website at http://aroundtheamericas.org. They plan on visiting Cooper Island on their way east through the Beaufort Sea, but the timing of that visit will depend on when the ice moves offshore.
Cooper Island, one of the Plover Islands, in fact owes its name to the most famous of the attempts to navigate the Northwest Passage. After the Franklin Expedition disappeared during an attempted westward transit of the Passage in 1845, there were many attempts to find Franklin’s two ships and crew. The H.M.S. Plover sailed to Point Barrow in hopes of finding Franklin as he exited into the Beaufort Sea.
During their search for Franklin, the Plover overwintered just east of Point Barrow, in back of the chain of barrier islands that extend eastward approximately 30 miles from the Point. The captain of the Plover named the island chain after his vessel, and during the winter walked over the ice to two of the islands. One of them, Iglurak — which in Inupiat means “island with a house on it” — the other was named “Cooper’s Island” after one of the ship’s officers.
Egg laying is now complete for all the species on the island and my next post will examine how the type and numbers of birds have changed in recent years.