Josh Nove, 07-03-97

Anchorage Daily News
Tuesday, July 08, 1997

By Peter Porco, Daily News Reporter
Illustration By Ron Engstrom
A young volunteer biologist, fulfilling a dream o visit Alaska and study its shorebirds, apparently drowned in a lake on a remote wildlife refuge as he tried to capture a gull chick for banding.

Josh Nove, 23, of Ipswich, Mass., disappeared into Mother Goose Lake on the Alaska Peninsula Thursday evening and is presumed dead. His body has not been found, and Alaska State Troopers called off the search for him Monday, said Ronald Hood, manager of the Alaska Peninsula/Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Hood said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers would stay at a field camp near the lake in hopes Nove's body will float up. Silty water where "you can't see your hand six inches under" has hampered recovery, Hood said. Nove, who graduated two years ago with honors in biology from Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., had been working as a volunteer intern since late April. Part of a team of other volunteers and agency technicians surveying migrating waterfowl, Nove captured baby birds, recorded sizes and other features, then put bands on the chicks'
legs before releasing them.

According to Hood, Nove was working last Thursday evening in mud and shallow water in a marshy delta on the east side of Mother Goose Lake. Two other members of his seven-person team, each about 50 yards away, saw him chase a pair of mew gull chicks.

As Nove moved farther into the ankle-deep water, he stepped off a shelf and into water over his head. He never came up.

"We don't understand why he disappeared so fast," Hood said. "Usually someone in a drowning situation flounders, but he just disappeared."

Nove was wearing partially rolled-down hip waders, which would fill with water quickly, Hood said.

Nove went under where Volcano Creek, a cold, silt-laden glacial stream, flows into Mother Goose Lake. The water was measured at 42 degrees, said Hood.

"I'm sure he had his attention on those chicks and didn't realize he was in lake water," Hood said. "The bottom there goes quickly to 10 feet deep, then to 20 feet deep and then to 60 feet deep. It's a real sharp dropoff."

Nove and the others had been wearing flotation vests when they left their base camp on the other side of the lake. But once on dry ground where the birds nest, he and others shed their vests, Hood said.

The others on his team began searching for Nove right away. State divers tried to find him. Helicopters searched overhead. Rescuers dragged the bottom.

Nove was one of 100 men and women who have volunteered for fish and wildlife service field work in Alaska so far this year, according to agency spokeswoman Connie Barclay. In a typical year, the agency puts as many as 350 volunteers to work in Alaska helping with its surveys and other conservation work, giving them career-boosting experience.

Hood said Nove had safety training in the use of boats and in handling bear confrontations as well as in bird catching and banding. Nove also was aware of the deep-water edge at Mother Goose.

Nove had wide experience at similar kinds of field study, according to his resume and his father, John Nove.

"He had been interested in birds since he was 3 or 4," John Nove said. "Josh grew up with birds and the out-of-doors and eventually he became a better natural historian than me."

His father has been a science teacher and is a visitor services supervisor for Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

"The irony is that I supervise eight people who are Josh's age," he said.

ILLUSTRATION shows map of Mother Goose Lake area