Nanwalek, English Bay

Nanwalek, English Bay

by | May 29, 2022

Nanwalek is a community on English Bay, a small embayment on the eastern shore of lower Cook Inlet near the entrance to Kachemak Bay and at the southern entrance to Port Graham on the Kenai Peninsula, about 24 miles (38 km) southwest of Homer and 3.4 miles (5.5 km) west of the village of Port Graham, Alaska. Nanwalek was originally the Russian fort and trading post called Alexandrovsk and later called English Bay. In 1991, the name was officially changed to Nanwalek meaning ‘place by lagoon’. The English Bay River drains a watershed of 15,567 acres (6,300 ha) and flows generally northwest for 12 miles (19 km) from the northeast flank of Peak 2350 to English Bay Lagoon. The lagoon is formed by a gravel spit that extends south for 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from the headland at Russian Point and is likely formed by an ocean current that curls clockwise off Point Bede creating an eddy. The village of Nanwalek is situated at the base of the spit which serves as a runway for local air taxis. The Engish Bay River watershed is underlain by three rock formations of the Chugach accretionary terrane. The outermost third that underlies Nanwalek is generally comprised of the Talkeetna Formation, locally called the Pogibshi Formation, which formed during the Early Jurassic and consists of at least 17,000 feet (5,270 m) of andesite and dacite tuff, volcaniclastic conglomerate, sandstone, mudstone, and minor coal and limestone. The presence of coal indicates that some of the rock formation was deposited in a nonmarine environment. The middle third of the watershed consists of the Port Graham Formation characterized by dark-gray limestone, volcanic tuff, and sedimentary rocks consisting of tuff, and chert. The estimated minimum thickness is 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Bivalve fossils indicate a Late Triassic age for most of the unit. The innermost third of the watershed extends into the Kenai Mountains and consists of the McHugh Complex which is mostly conglomerate and massive greywacke that are of turbiditic origin. Regionally, the greywacke was formed during the Early Jurassic through Early Cretaceous.

In 1786, a Russian fort called Aleksandrovsk was established at the present-day site of Nanwalek by the Shelikov-Golikov Company which was based on Kodiak Island. This was the first Russian post on mainland Alaska. In 1793, the rival company of Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin, which was based near the village of Kenai, attacked Aleksandrovsk with 60 men accompanied by Dena’ina warriors. Lebedev-Lastochkin’s men organized various provocations and beat the local Natives, taking furs that would have been sent to Shelikhov’s company in Kodiak, but ultimately they could not capture the fort. In the summer of 1794, Aleksandrovsk was moved to a new, higher place, since the old structures had rotted and had begun to collapse as a result of high tides, possibly indicating that the first location may have been on the spit. In 1798, when the Dena’ina rose against the men of Lebedev-Lastochkin’s company in Kenai, Tyonek, and Old Iliamna, the timely arrival of a detachment from Aleksandrovsk saved the Kenai colony from total destruction, but the Tyonek and Iliamna colonies were razed. By 1818, Aleksandrovsk was scaled down to an ‘odinochka’, referring to a one-man post. In the 1830s, a trading post and Russian Orthodox chapel were established on the outer coast at Yalik village. In 1880, Yalik village had a population of 32 people. Owing to the devout following of the Alutiiq Sugpiat people in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the difficulty of servicing such a distant and inaccessible locale by clergy headquartered in Kenai, Yalik residents were requested to move to Alexandrovsk where the Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam Church was established in 1870. The population of the outer coast gradually diminished, and by the 1950s, the last community to be abandoned was Portlock in Port Chatham. Most Nanwalek and Port Graham residents trace their ancestry to the Alutiiq Sugpiat who lived in one of 19 settlements and camps along the outer coast. Contact with Russian fur traders and Aleut hunters who accompanied them in the late 1700s and Euro-American and Asian immigrants in the 1800s resulted in intermarriages and families of mixed ancestries.

The English Bay River flows through a series of lakes that historically were significant producers of sockeye salmon supporting a commercial fishery. In 1985, commercial fishing closures were implemented as sockeye salmon production in this system declined. However, even with a reduction in commercial fishing, subsequent sockeye escapements into the English Bay Lake system did not increase. In order to increase production, a juvenile sockeye fry stocking program was initiated in 1990. Limnological studies indicated that the English Bay Lakes are nutrient-poor and because this watershed has a rapid flushing rate, primary production of phytoplankton and secondary production of zooplankton are very low. As zooplankton biomass is the primary forage for rearing sockeye juveniles, excessive fry stocking coupled with natural recruitment will result in overgrazing of available zooplankton. Stocking of juvenile sockeye fry above the capacity of the system to produce sufficient zooplankton forage could result in a complete collapse of the zooplankton community. The low densities and small sizes of zooplankton coupled with the small size of smolts suggest intense competition for food and that the English Bay Lakes rearing conditions are already near capacity. In general, lake productivity depends largely on an adequate nutrient supply and in sockeye nursery lakes, the decomposition of adult carcasses would normally provide an important source of nutrients that are essential for algal growth and subsequent zooplankton productivity. Fishery managers attempt to balance juvenile recruitment from both wild production and hatchery stocking with the available forage base to produce a sustainable level of smolt production, and ultimately, a consistent total return of adult salmon. The purpose of the existing English Bay Lakes sockeye salmon enhancement project is to provide adult sockeye salmon to the lower Cook Inlet commercial fishery, as well as for hatchery cost-recovery, and for personal use and subsistence harvests by the communities of Nanwalek and Port Graham. The English Bay Lakes sockeye salmon enhancement project has been operating for over 20 years and has been modified several times. The current project consists of egg collection from the English Bay Lakes, the incubation and rearing of the resultant fry at a hatchery, and the release of fry back to the lake system. In 2004, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association began assisting with the project when eggs from English Bay Lakes were transferred to the Trail Lakes Hatchery for incubation, rearing, and releasing salmon fry to the lake system or smolt to Port Graham Bay. Read more here and here. Explore more of Nanwalek and English Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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