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Marine Debris Cleanup Projects Planned for 9 Alaska Communities

As the ice clears out from the last of Alaska’s beaches, it’s the time of year when shorelines become littered with old fishing gear, machinery, and cargo from ships sailing across the globe. Cleaning up Alaska’s vast coastline is a huge undertaking, but the Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation is starting by sponsoring clean up projects in 9 communities around the state.

Much of Alaska’s 44 thousand 500 miles of coastline is far from developed.  There’s not much going on locally that makes a mess. But thanks to persistent ocean currents, old junk from around world continues to wash ashore. Some arrives after floating around for decades.

Dave Gaudet is Director of the Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation.

"We find what we believe are old nets from the days when JVs or foreign fleets were fishing off the coast.  We're also part of the Great Shipping Route.  There are containers that fall over, we do find curious items.  Last year there must have been a container of fly swatters that fell over.  We found fly swatters from Montague island to Prince William sound to Kodiak. The north pacific gyre brings us debris from as far away as Japan," said Gaudet.

The foundation has 54 thousand dollars set aside for work in Port Heiden. Local teams will work around Ship Creek, about 20 miles north of Port Heiden along with Stroganoff Spit.  Gaudet says teaming up with communities takes advantage of local knowledge of shorelines and also makes sense logistically.

"Most of these clean ups require lots of equipment: they require a boat, or 4-wheelers, or trucks to move it.  We're certainly not going to ship anything into these remote areas and do anything economically. Working with them is the only way. Typically we develop a contract with them to do so much work in a particular area.  They will supply trucks and people for doing the work," said Gaudet.

A big question for Gaudet this summer concerns the debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.  Enormous amount of foam from oyster farm buoys and destroyed homes made its way to Alaska’s beaches last year.   Guadet says a project near Sitka is providing the first reports of this year’s tsunami debris.

"They're just getting on the ground, just getting started. They said, yeah, there's more of the foam.  A lot of it piled up over the winger," said Gaudet.

The Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation will put 420 thousand dollars this summer towards work in communities like Yakutat, Nelson Lagoon, and St. Paul island.