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MTPR's SubSurface Podcast Wins Science Journalism Award

SubSurface: Resisting Montana's Underwater Invaders
SubSurface: Resisting Montana's Underwater Invaders

MISSOULA – The team behind the Montana Public Radio podcast “SubSurface: Resisting Montana’s Underwater Invaders” has won a prestigious 2018 Kavli Science Journalism Award.

The science journalism awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1945, honor distinguished reporting for a general audience. Endowed by the Kavli Foundation, the awards are open to journalists worldwide, and entries came from 54 countries this year. Independent panels of science journalists select the winners.
Some winners include The New Yorker, BBC World Service and Germany’s Hamburger Abendblatt, with topics such as male contraception, severe brain injuries and polar bears.

“These awards represent the highest quality in science journalism,” said Rush Holt, AAAS chief executive officer. “Congratulations to the winners for their important and compelling stories.”

The audio team from “SubSurface” earned a Silver Award and $3,500 for its coverage of invasive zebra and quagga mussels in Montana waters.

Montana was invaded in the summer of 2017 by microscopic aliens floating in the waters of the Tiber Reservoir in the northcentral part of the state near Shelby. The tiny organisms, which emit a glowing X-shape in the light of a microscope, were infant forms of invasive zebra and quagga mussels, species that already had invaded the Great Lakes with devastating impact. The organisms soon appeared in the Canyon Ferry reservoir east of Helena and downstream in the Missouri River.

MTPR reporter and SubSurface Producer Nicky Ouellet.
MTPR reporter and SubSurface Producer Nicky Ouellet.

The finding triggered immediate concern about the future health of Montana’s fisheries and led Nicky Ouellet of Montana Public Radio to mount an ambitious five-part podcast series. Ouellet is a 2016 graduate of the University of Montana's environmental science and natural resource journalism master’s program, and her podcast explores the destructive history of the mussels in other bodies of water, how they may have arrived in Montana, how they can be detected and controlled, and what political decisions are needed to ensure a unified effort to attack the pests.

As part of her reporting, Ouellet traveled to affected waters in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Nicky Ouellet stages a tour-de-force of reporting on the mussel invasion of lakes and waterways across the United States,” said judge Tina Hesman Saey, molecular biology writer for Science News. “All the while, she presents science in nuanced and engaging ways.”

Ouellet said “SubSurface” is MTPR’s first venture into podcasting.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by our listeners’ support, as well as recognition from our peers and experts in the field,” Ouellet said.

The awards will be presented at a Feb. 15 ceremony held in conjunction with the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. To read a list of all winners, visit

Listen to “SubSurface” at

MTPR is a public service of UM and broadcasts on 89.1 (KUFM) and 91.5 Missoula (K218AI); 91.9 Hamilton (KUFN; 89.5 Polson (KPJH); 90.1 Kalispell, Whitefish, North Valley (KUKL); 90.5 Libby (KUFL); 91.7 Kalispell (K219BN); 101.3 Swan Lake (K267BJ); 91.3 Butte (KAPC); 91.7 Helena (KUHM); 91.7 Dillon (K219DN); and 89.9 Great Falls (KGPR).

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