Despite the tons of marine debris that have been removed from Alaska shorelines in recent years, large quantities are still accumulating. Polystyrene foam, clearly identifiable as debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, continues to be a substantial percentage of the marine debris found in Alaska.
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, therefore making it critical to remove the debris quickly before it becomes impossible to collect.
To address this continuing influx of debris, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently received $950,000 from the Government of Japan, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, for tsunami marine debris collection, removal, and disposal projects for the 2016 field season.
Specifically, this funding is intended to support a single large-scale project covering Kayak and Montague Islands, locations which have some of the highest densities of marine debris in the Gulf of Alaska.
The majority of the $950,000 recently awarded to the State of Alaska will support a State-issued contract to clean shorelines on Kayak and Montague Islands and dispose of the collected debris in an approved landfill facility. Kayak Island and Montague Island are both located in the central Gulf of Alaska and were selected to be the focus of 2016 field operations based on the State’s history of work in these areas and the high density of marine debris that continues to plague these “collector” shorelines, which accumulate large amounts of debris due to local currents and winds.
These areas are also extremely difficult to access by traditional means (skiff and landing craft) and lack local disposal options, making it cost prohibitive for existing marine debris organizations to take on removal efforts with smaller funding sources like grants and donations.