Saint Paul Island is located in the middle of the Bering Sea and is home to the largest Northern Fur Seal breeding ground the in the world. American scientists have been conducting research at the site since 1911, counting the colony’s population and observing new-born seal behavior. To stay aloof of the marine mammals, scientists make their observations from a series of wooden planks connecting seven towers on a remote part of the island that is surrounded by rocks and ice. When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) needed to replace the long-standing wooden observatory deck at a research facility in Saint Paul Island, Alaska, the U.S. government specified pultruded composites as the material of choice.

The location of the observatory is difficult to reach via traditional methods like trucks and ships, not only would the building material need to be transportable, but contractor Wade Perrow Construction LLC (WPC), Gig Harbor, Wash., needed materials that were strong enough to withstand the 20-60 mph winds and light enough to install with limited construction equipment. Chiefly, NOAA wanted to extend the observatory lifespan. “NOAA specified composites to ensure the product life would reach 50 years,” says Jason Sousie, project manager at WPC. This was the first project that Sousie constructed using composite materials.

To research more about the material he would be working with, Sousie searched the Internet for “composite materials” and found Strongwell Corporation, Bristol, Va.“WPC contacted us to supply durable building material that could outlast wood. But it couldn’t bring any heavy equipment to the island,” says Randy Montgomery, project manager at Strongwell who coordinated the material provided for the Seal Observation project. The small island population seldom uses heavy construction equipment and the installation was manhandled using a forklift and pulley system. This required non-traditional planning from WPC to ensure project success with the available tools. Logistics continued to challenge Strongwell and WPC to complete the observatory before June and remain within the budget.

The Northern Fur Seal is an endangered species and the colony occupies the island during the summer months, leaving only the winter available for construction. Saint Paul Island is extremely difficult to access in the winter; therefore, the timeline for shipping the building materials to the island was imperative to the success of this project. “We put a lot of energy into the coordination of this project. Everything they needed to complete the project had to ship on one boat to the island,” says Montgomery.