By: Colleen Rankin, Guest Blogger and Resident of Blue Fox Bay
Blue Fox Bay Lodge is located on a bay on the northwest corner of Afognak Island, the second largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska. Two of us, Colleen Rankin and Jerry Sparrow, are lucky enough to call this wilderness home.
In 2012, through the outreach efforts of the Marine Conservation Alliance (now administered by the Sitka Sound Science Center), we were selected to receive a grant to remove marine debris from the remote beaches in this area. During the next three years, our efforts continued with the support of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, a private grant, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, with funding provided by the Japanese government to clean up tsunami-related debris.
Along with a few volunteers, we have removed over 32,000 pounds of varying debris. Fishing gear including nets, lines and buoys, have made up the largest portion by weight. Nets and lines can also collect other items as they move through the water and we have found clumps of this derelict gear with over 30 different debris pieces entwined. Foam debris has increased significantly over the years and is very attractive to the bears that live here; we have found where they shred it and carry it into the forest. Plastic is the material that best represents the lives of our modern society and we have found countless single-use items including drinking bottles, caps, food packaging, and many household and personal items.
Gaining access to such remote beaches has presented many challenges, including the expense. In many places, local stewardship is a great model for removal because it uses the resources and knowledge that are already in the area. This is especially evident when inclement weather can hamper efforts and local people can slip out for cleanups between storms.
Once we have contained the debris, the biggest challenge we face is final disposal. So far, the Kenai Borough has granted us a variance (a special permission needed due to restrictions on the disposal of marine debris in many Alaskan landfills) and so a portion of the debris has gone to their landfill. Some debris has gone to local fishermen for reuse, and much of it has been given to local artists and gardeners. Some buoys have even been made into swings for kids. However, we are finding more broken plastic of no obvious use and a major reuse and disposal plan is a crucial step to deal with the issue.
We will continue to clean these important areas, particularly near bird rookeries, salmon streams, and high impact beaches. These efforts are crucial to protecting Alaska’s coasts from the harmful effects of marine debris.