Alaskans regroup in battle against marine debris

Marine Debris in Alaska Workshop February 14–15 in Anchorage

01/23/2008

Contacts

NR: SG-2008/NR268

marine debris on Alaska coast
Photo courtesy Bob King. Click on image for high-res version (2048 x 1536, 1.2 MB).

Anchorage, Alaska—Alaska has a reputation for clean waters and pristine vistas. But anyone who has walked Alaska’s rocky beaches knows that parts of the state’s vast coastline are far from pristine.

Fishing nets, rope, totes, six-pack rings, bottles, drums, and myriad other trash—much of it plastic—litter Alaska’s shores. It’s a vexing mess made by both humans and nature. Humans dump trash into the sea—often thousands of miles away—and ocean currents carry it onto the state’s rugged and mostly remote Alaskan coast.

Annual beach cleanups and federal laws aimed at ending the coastal carnage have done little to stem the waves of trash washing onto Alaska’s shores.

At next month’s Alaska Forum on the Environment, concerned residents will regroup in their war on the trash that fouls Alaska beaches.

The Marine Debris in Alaska Workshop will take place February 14–15 at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage. Organizers said the workshop is needed to coordinate and prioritize statewide marine debris removal, education, and outreach, and to map a strategy for future prevention and cleanup efforts.

Alaska has more than 34,000 miles of mostly uninhabited coastline that lacks significant road access. The state’s oceans support the largest array of commercial fisheries in North America, and they serve as major international and intra-state cargo transportation routes, coastal community transportation, and tourist destinations.

Much of the debris on Alaska’s beaches comes from as far away as Asia, carried on ocean currents to the far reaches of the state’s vast coast. In addition, inadequate disposal of waste from Alaska coastal communities also enters the marine environment.

While various groups remove tons of debris from Alaska’s shoreline each year, the efforts of government agencies, recreational and environmental groups, the private sector, landowners and tribes operate with few resources and limited coordination.

As a result regional debris removal programs are often spotty and opportunistic, operate in isolation, and are modestly funded. Complicating cleanup efforts has been the high cost of removal, difficult access to remote beaches, safety and weather considerations, and limited landfill sites and recycling options. Effective outreach and education is challenging because debris sources are often unknown.

The Marine Debris in Alaska Workshop is sponsored by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the NOAA Alaska Sea Grant College Program, and the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation.