Tribe, conservationists work to identify ocean garbage

Posted: Monday, June 05, 2000

UNALASKA (AP) -- A quick inventory of Front Beach in this mid-Aleutian community comes up with some pretty strange stuff: old shoe soles, Christmas wrapping paper and even a beat-up stereo speaker.

After surveying the strange take, the Qawalangin Tribe and a national nonprofit conservation organization are working to find out where the junk is coming from.

''You scratch your head and wonder, 'How did this get here?''' said Emily Morgan, director of citizen outreach and monitoring for the Center for Marine Conservation, based in Washington, D.C.

Older elementary school students from Unalaska City School helped inventory the trash from the beach a couple of weeks ago.

Similar efforts are underway at St. Paul, Seward and Kodiak as well as at a number of coastal communities across the country.

Sponsors of the program hope the results will provide a snapshot of the world's trash production, and how to better keep it out of the ocean.

The Center for Marine Conservation study was funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It looks primarily at plastics, which have been illegal to dump in the oceans since 1988. But because plastics survive almost indefinitely, it's been hard to gauge whether the new laws are having much impact.

The Qawalangin Tribe's environmental program joined the effort because of concerns about the health of local waters, said Janice Krukoff, who helped coordinate the program for the tribe.

Marine mammals, often harvested as subsistence foods, are particularly vulnerable to sea pollution.

About 80 percent of the inventoried Unalaska trash was old nets and rope used by the fishing industry. Because of their locations, Aleutian beaches are particularly well-suited for collecting global garbage.

''The Aleutians almost act like a sieve or comb for everything that is floating in open ocean,'' the Marine Conservation Center's Morgan told the Dutch Harbor Fisherman.

The nonprofit group plans to return to Alaska over the next few years to continue its beach surveys.

Tribal officials said they hope the program will help Unalaska residents focus on the health of their seas.

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