Ongoing cleanup of tons of marine debris on Gulf of Alaska shores will be aided in 2016 by the recent Japanese government donation of $950,000, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris program.
A cleanup priority goal is the removal of foam and plastics, the bulk of which still is coming to shore from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, before they break down and can be consumed to their detriment by fish and wildlife, said Dorothy Melambianakis, program coordinator for the marine debris program within the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
The flow of marine debris from the Japanese tsunami began reaching the shores of Alaska at the end of 2011, “and we don’t expect it to stop,” Melambianakis said in an interview Feb. 12.
Over time, foam litter breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, falling between cracks in nearly impenetrable log piles along Alaska shorelines. Marine animals, including fish, can easily mistake polystyrene for food, so it is critical to remove the debris quickly before it becomes impossible to collect.
Previously the bulk of the debris had been fishing lines and nets and plastics, but now in addition there is more debris that includes aquaculture industry items, including oyster buoys, building fragments, buckets and baskets from shopping centers and property stakes, four-by-four wooden stakes used to mark property lines in Japan, and miscellaneous items like shoes and socks.
To address the continuing influx of debris, the state will use that $950,000 for tsunami marine debris collection, removal and disposal projects for the 2016 field season, Melambianakis said. This funding is intended specifically to support a single large-scale project covering Kayak and Montague Islands, which were determined to have some of the highest densities of marine debris in the Gulf of Alaska.
Last July, federal and state agencies joined with private industry and local and international non-profit organizations to remove debris stores in the Kodiak Island area and shorelines of the Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound and British Columbia.
More than one million pounds of marine debris have been collected and removed from Alaska using funds provided by the government of Japan and administered through DEC, Melambianakis said.
DEC plans to issue a request for proposal in February for the 2016 fieldwork. Qualified contractors interested in submitting a proposal should monitor the Alaska Online Public Notice website: https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/default.aspx
More information on the marine debris cleanup program in Alaska is online at http://dec.alaska.gov/eh/marine-debris/.