By: Tom Pogson, Guest Blogger and Director of Education, Outreach, and Marine Programs at Island Trails Network
Alaskan shorelines that are heavily impacted by marine debris are often remote and inaccessible. The Kodiak Archipelago, approximately 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, is greatly affected by marine debris because of its 1,500 miles of shoreline and its position in the Gulf of Alaska. Island Trails Network (ITN) is a community-based non-profit specializing in marine debris advocacy in the Kodiak Archipelago and works to address this problem.
Tugidak (pronounced tug-ee-duck) – The Past
Tugidak is an uninhabited island that is located 120 miles southwest of Kodiak City and has one of the largest concentrations of marine debris in the western Gulf of Alaska. Funded by a NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) Community-based Removal Grant, ITN removed 86,000 pounds of debris from 16.8 miles of shoreline in the Tugidak Island State Critical Habitat Area in 2013 and 2014. Cleanup supplies were delivered to the island using large landing crafts, which were also used to remove debris. Volunteers and staff reached Tugidak from Kodiak in floatplanes, travelled and collected marine debris using ATVs with trailers, and camped in an abandoned mining compound a few feet from the surf. They collected mostly derelict fishing gear, totes, and buckets, but many industrial materials, household goods and plastics of all kinds were also removed. This project also included the creation of marine debris art and targeted Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet to increase awareness of the problem.
Shuyak (pronounced shoe-yak) – The Future
At the opposite, eastern end of the Kodiak Archipelago is the idyllic Shuyak Island State Park, whose shorelines have also been heavily impacted by marine debris. Shuyak is only about 100 square miles, with 60 miles of contoured shoreline and extensive protected waters. It is home to several species of Pacific salmon, Steller sea lions, sea otters, Humpback and Orca whales and harbor seals and its surrounding waters support commercial and sport fishing of salmon, halibut and cod. Because of the natural value and large concentrations of marine debris, cleanup projects on Shuyak Island are a high priority. However, like Tugidak, Shuyak is only accessible by boat or float plane and there are no roads or landing strips. A handful of residents live in Port William on the south shore, an abandoned cannery turned hunting and fishing lodge and the only settlement on Shuyak.
ITN was recently awarded another MDP Community-based Removal Grant for a cleanup of Shuyak Island. Over the course of 16 weeks during the summers of 2016 and 2017, ITN staff and volunteers will clean all of Shuyak’s 60 nautical miles of shoreline using sea kayaks to access beaches where the approach is often barred by shallow rocky reefs. The Shuyak project will also quantify the types of debris removed, develop a representative display of debris from the area, build strategies to reduce common sources of debris using a community forum, and estimate the rate of re-accumulation of debris on a large stretch of shoreline.
Conducting marine debris removals from remote shorelines in Alaska is difficult and expensive; however, the benefits of restoring wilderness shorelines are untold. ITN thanks the MDP Community-based Removal grant program for enabling the completion of these cleanup projects in Alaska.