Session Chairs: Victoria OConnell, Sitka Sound Science Center; Veronica Padula, Tribal Government of St. Paul Island

In this session, you’ll hear from community members actively working to remove marine debris from rugged remote areas and the unique challenges they face with removal and costs of shipping to recycling/disposal facilities on mainland Alaska and the Lower 48.

 Removal and disposal of marine debris from remote Alaskan communities poses many challenges.       Along with the rugged terrain, some of these challenges include working in the sub-arctic environment and inclement marine weather. One of the main challenges is timing marine debris removal efforts around the retreat of sea ice from the shoreline with the arrival of nesting seabirds and marine mammals. This window of opportunity to remove debris from the shoreline is limited to spring, summer, and fall months. Additionally, being from remote communities poses logistical challenges for debris disposal. Most municipal landfills do not accept marine debris; therefore all debris collected must be shipped to mainland Alaska or the Lower 48 for disposal or recycling. The logistics and challenges of marine debris removal and disposal from small remote communities from the Bering Sea to Southeast Alaska will be explored further in this session.




Marine Debris Removal on St. Paul Island, Alaska

presenting: Pamela Lestenkof (Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government, United States); authors: Pamela Lestenkof (Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government, United States), Paul Melovidov (Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government), Aaron Lestenkof (Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government), Dallas Roberts (Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government), Veronica Padula (Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government)

The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government (ACSPI) has been cleaning up marine debris on the beaches and shorelines of St. Paul Island, Alaska since 1998. St. Paul Island is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, a five-island archipelago in the central Bering Sea. The island supports astonishingly high concentrations of marine mammals, seabirds, fish, and invertebrates. On the Pribilofs, one of the most prominent local impacts of marine debris is the entanglement of northern fur seals or laaqudax (Callorhinus ursinus) in pieces of net, plastic bands, and other synthetic debris. The ACSPI has been actively involved in entanglement research and monitoring since 1995. More recent studies led by the ACSPI have estimated that the juvenile male fur seal entanglement rate on St. Paul Island is between 0.15 and 0.35%. While fur seal entanglements seem to have declined since the 1970s, the ACSPI continues to seek funding for marine debris removal to reduce entanglements for fur seals. In May 2017, the ACSPI removed approximately 21,844 pounds of marine debris from shoreline adjacent to habitat critical for northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, and seabirds. Net and line were the major contributors to the weight of debris collected. Debris composition data was shared with the Sitka Sound Science Center for inclusion in the Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation (AMSF) statewide marine debris database. A total of 79 super sacks of marine debris were barged off island to Seattle, WA on Coastal Transportation free of charge and transported to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill for disposal.


Marine Debris Removals in St George Island, Pribilof Islands, Alaska by the St George Traditional Council

presenting: Sally Mercurlief (St George Traditional Council, United States); authors: Sally Mercurlief (St George Traditional Council, United States)

The unique location and geography of St. George Island makes it rich in seabirds, Northern Fur Seals, and the Steller Sea Lions, many of which are endangered. The Pribilof Islands historically is home to one of the largest Northern Fur Seal breeding population in the world, which has declined dramatically over the past 20 years. The Aleut community of St. George has been dependent on seabirds, Northern Fur Seals, and Stellar Sea Lions as a source of food. It has been a part of their culture for many generations and while it’s fading from the newer generations’ culture, it is still a way of life for many. The Pribilofs sit in a prime fishing area in the Bering Sea making it a high traffic area for fishing vessels and marine debris from this activity and other far–off areas accumulates on our beaches. Marine Debris poses a threat to these mammals, they get curious, they investigate it, causing them to get entangled. Studies have shown that every year many seals and sea lions in Alaska unnecessarily suffer or die from marine debris. Some debris like the white packing bands end up entangled around the seals necks and gets so embedded in them that it cuts them. To help preserve their marine life and culture, the St. George Traditional Council proposed a plan to clean up marine debris on our beaches and rookeries. All of the work is done by hand and debris is sorted, weighed and cataloged then put into supersaks. We partner with NOAA, the Sitka Sound Science Center and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Corporation and hope to continue these efforts into the future. Shipping collected debris off island remains a significant barrier to our community.


Three Decades of Debris Data: What regular cleanup activities reveal about marine debris recovery efforts in Hawai‘i

presenting: Megan Lamson (Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, United States); authors: Megan Lamson (Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, United States), Stacey Breining (Hawai’i Wildlife Fund), Cynthia Welti (Surfrider Foundation Kaua’i), Kevin Brinck (University of Hawai’i at Hilo)

Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund (HWF) and Surfrider Foundation Kaua‘i (SFK) have over three decades of combined experience removing marine debris from the shorelines and nearshore reefs of the Hawaiian Archipelago. Collectively since 2003, HWF and SFK have removed more than 740,576 lbs. (335.9 m. tons) of debris on three different islands (Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i, Maui) with over 39,289 documented hours of coordinated volunteer effort. Rigorous data collection has been captured for these cleanup efforts since 2008 (Hawai‘i Island, HWF), 2013 (Kaua‘i, SFK), and 2016 (Maui, HWF). Data analysis of these debris activities has revealed a peak efficiency number of volunteers by cleanup type (community beach cleanup vs. large debris and derelict-fishing-gear recovery efforts) for both relatively-accessible and remote debris-accumulation coastlines.

Comparison of debris recovery efforts between islands (Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i, Maui) using rates of recovery by volunteer hours (average = 20.3 ± 13.3 lbs.) and methodologies utilized are examined and may help maximize effectiveness of volunteer power. Well-coordinated volunteer efforts play a crucial role in both removing the threats of and reducing the input of marine debris in our world’s oceans and coastlines. In addition, HWF and SFK continually search for the best means of recycling debris collected while minimizing the global carbon footprint of such activities. Authors will share lessons learned over the years from hundreds of cleanup activities, and will also spotlight how cleanup efforts have focused on sensitive sites and highest-impact zones as a way of initiating a “triage” response in times of environmental crises.


Native Community Marine Debris Removal in the Bering Sea Critical Habitat

presenting: Scott Anderson (Native Village of Port Heden, United States); authors: Scott Anderson (Native Village of Port Heden, United States)

The coastal beaches of Port Heiden, AK have been cluttered with marine debris for decades. Port Heiden is located within Bristol Bay on the Alaska Peninsula. The Native Village of Port Heiden (NVPH) has been working with federal and local agencies to remove marine debris since 2008. We have a clean-up program using 100% local hire to clean marine debris from the outer coastal beaches of southwest Alaska. A majority of the debris comes from the Bering Sea. Average fishing related debris is 28% Line or Rope and 12% Trawl, Seine & Cargo net. Our program recovers debris from a total of 87 miles of beach within 5 different areas of our community. Our beaches have long runs that are inaccessible by road, so ATV’s and trailers are required for access. The beaches are made up of heavy black sands, silty mud, and volcanic pumice. Tides and weather require local navigational expertise and small vessels (32’ shallow bottom boats and skiffs) to transport crew and equipment to safe staging camps. Cleanup generally requires laborers use shovels to dig up debris. What looks like just a buoy may be ten fathoms of line, so the right tools, time, and hard work are necessary on every site. We also work hard to stay diligent protecting our surroundings and insure we do not disturb the vegetation line and/or animal habitat. Working with the State of Alaska, we secure permits prior to entering critical habitat areas.


Achieving Remote Area Cleanup Efficiency: Safety, Cost and Tonnage

presenting: Chris Pallister (Gulf of Alaska Keeper, United States); authors: Chris Pallister (Gulf of Alaska Keeper, United States)

This presentation will examine the safety and efficiency of removing collected marine debris from remote shorelines, such as those in British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska. Safety issues related to cleanup work on dangerous, road-inaccessible beaches will be discussed. Removal of marine debris by hand and small vessels will be compared to marine-debris removal utilizing helicopters and large sea-going tug and barges. Lessons learned from large helicopter/barge removal projects in the Gulf of Alaska are applicable to remote beach cleanup projects throughout the world.


Southeast Alaska Marine Debris Removal – A Walk on the Beach – Not!

Presenting: Callie Simmons (Sitka Sound Science Center, United States); Authors: Kristina Tirman (Sitka Sound Science Center, United States), Victoria Curran (Sitka Sound Science Center), Margot OConnell (Sitka Sound Science Center)

The Sitka Sound Science Center has been working with local partners to remove marine debris from the rugged outer coast beaches of southeast Alaska since 2007. With 18,000 miles of coastline, southeast Alaska has more coastline than Washington, Oregon, and California combined. Much of this coastline is inaccessible by roads and exposed to the open Gulf of Alaska. The outer coast in front of Sitka includes Cape Edgecumbe, one of the biggest hot spots for marine debris in the Gulf of Alaska. The outer coast is comprised of rugged rocky shore lines, lava flats, cliffs, and pocket coves fringed in large kelp beds. Tides in the area can exceed 4.9 m. Consequently, the SSSC has found partnering with local commercial fishing vessels has been very effective for debris removal from remote locations. These locals are experienced in local navigation and working in challenging weather conditions. The fishing vessels also serve as housing for field crew. Boats are <20 m with a 4-person crew. The larger vessel anchors outside the surf zone and launches smaller skiffs and inflatables to access the beach. Sea state is the limiting factor in access as many of the beaches are steep and rocky where surf creates hazardous exit and entry. Small crews access the shore and work in pairs to clean debris, working to end on a high tide to limit how far debris needs to be moved. All of this work is done by hand. Debris is cataloged and supersaks are used. Saks are either loaded into inflatable pulled out with lines past the surf zone. Trips can last up to 7 days depending on deck space for debris. Debris is recycled when possible, re-purposed or disposed of at the municipal transfer facility. The SSSC has a strong outreach and education program working with k-12 schools, university field courses and 12,000 cruise ship passengers each year.