Coastal Resilience from Marine Debris on Montague Island

Marine debris is an increasing global problem in the oceans and along Alaska’s coastline. Marine debris is any man made item that gets put into the sea. Some sources of marine debris include tsunamis, windblown from shores, deliberate or accidental garbage disposal into the sea, and improperly secured or disposed of refuge such as derelict fishing gear.


Marine debris is an increasing global problem in the oceans and along Alaska’s coastline. Marine debris is any man made item that gets put into the sea. Some sources of marine debris include tsunamis, windblown from shores, deliberate or accidental garbage disposal into the sea, and improperly secured or disposed of refuge such as derelict fishing gear. Its effects can include toxicity (due to ingestion), strangulation, entanglement, and possible sterilization due to micro plastic toxicity. Montague Island is a barrier island located between the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. It was designated by the state as one of Alaska’s priority areas for Tsunami debris cleanup efforts due to the vast amount of debris accumulation and its potential impacts on the ecosystem, wildlife, and coastlines. To help control debris accumulation, surveys will be conducted and data will be collected and shared with appropriate agencies. By recruiting and training volunteers, the cost of surveying can be reduced. These volunteers can survey, cleanup, and help educate the importance of conserving our oceans and coastlines. The survey data will be compiled and analyzed using digital mapping tools. To reach and recruit volunteers, public awareness campaigns will be conducted. These continued efforts will ultimately spread a public awareness which will contribute to future prevention and conservation efforts.

Marine debris is a significant problem adversely affecting many coastal ecosystems throughout the world. Alaska is especially susceptible to marine debris and its impacts because of its immense coastline, the proximity to the North Pacific and converging currents, the diverse wildlife, and the numerous remote coastal communities. Many of the currents that reach Alaska also originate in areas of high population density, such as Japan’s Kuroshio current, leading to a large amount of marine debris being accumulated on Alaska’s coastline and surrounding its waters. These areas of the Pacific Ocean also house numerous fisheries and other marine industries resulting in significant accidental release of materials.

“Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes” (NOAA, 2015). Most marine debris that enters an area is detrimental to the ecosystem, its wildlife, and surrounding communities. Alaska’s marine debris primarily originates from remote countries such as Japan, China, Russia, Vietnam, and Malaysia (Gonzalez, 2015).

Marine debris is often the result of deliberate or accidental actions by people on land or at sea. Improperly covered trash bins, litter, debris left in streets and on beaches, and items thrown overboard can all become marine debris. Items can travel far before landing on shorelines or settling in the ocean. Marine debris can come from anywhere in a watershed, and be carried by rivers, streams, and other waterways into the ocean. To better understand and control marine debris we must address the actions that generate or transport marine debris. The National Marine Debris Monitoring Program determined that 49 percent of debris on U.S. beaches is from land- based sources, 18 percent is from ocean-based sources, and 33 percent is from a general source that could be considered land or ocean-based. However, regardless of source or type, all marine debris impacts our oceans, beaches, and waterways.

The largest source of marine debris is plastics. The modern world consumes plastic and thus the oceans are filled with it. According to recent studies, “plastics consistently make up 60 to 80% of all marine debris.”(Allsopp, n.d.)

Although plastic makes up the majority of all marine debris, it can also include other non- biodegradable materials such as glass, rubber, and metal (NOAA, 2015).

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Which means that it doesn’t ever leave the ecosystem. Although some plastics are designed to biodegrade, these cannot degrade at all in the ocean because they are designed to degrade in compost or landfill conditions. These conditions do not exist in the marine environment.

Plastics that break into small pieces become micro plastics. When these micro plastics group together they can block out the sun, inhibiting phytoplankton growth. When the plastics become smaller, they also start to release various chemicals such as biphenyl A (BPA), which makes its way into marine organisms and through them into people.

Plastics are a major type of marine debris. There are different types of plastics, such as, micro plastics, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and old fishing gear. Garbage bags that look like jellyfish, old nets and fishing gear that form landmines for unsuspecting life, and the plastic that six packs come in are just a few examples of harmful plastics. Cleaning up plastics presents its own problems. When there is a film of particles on the ocean surface, the only way to clean it up is using nets. Skimming through the ocean with a net results in a large amount of plankton bycatch, AKA the unintentional removal of plankton. Plankton are crucial to the marine ecosystem and cannot be removed without dire consequences.

Additional forms of beach debris are also in great abundance. Heavy rains or faulty systems can cause sewers to run into the ocean, filling it with sewage, which is one of the greatest sources of marine debris in America. Accidental release of debris by oil tanker spills or burst pipelines can also pour thousands of gallons of oil into the water, destroying entire ecosystems.

There are two different types of marine debris. That which is near the coast or washed up on land, and deep sea debris. Each has its own set of problems. Coastal debris can be an eyesore and eventually have an effect on the economy of nearby towns when tourists stop coming to enjoy the coastline. Coastal debris can also destroy marine habitats, coral reefs are especially vulnerable and can easily be destroyed along with all the organisms that depend on them.

Oceanic marine debris has its own set of problems such as ghost fishing, where abandoned lines and nets catch organisms that run into them. Oceanic debris can also be a major hazard for ships who do not see debris before running into them.

Alaskan shores are littered with debris, some areas have an estimated 30 tons of debris per mile. That’s just coastal debris, not even including what could be floating around in deeper water.

Marine debris can have a wide range of negative effects on an ocean ecosystem. The main negative effects on marine wildlife are entanglement, ingestion, and damage to the habitat. Ingestion is one of the many negative effect on marine and bird wildlife. Animals will often mistake debris such as plastics for food. Once the plastic is in their stomachs it is hard to come out and can causing starvation or malnutrition. The animal can either feel full with plastic in their stomachs or it can prevent nutrients from being absorbed.

Plastics are so toxic that they can cause death or reproductive failure. These toxins can make their way up the food chain if other fish consume fish that have harmful plastics inside them. This process is called biomagnification. The EPA defines biomagnification as “result of the process bioaccumulation and biotransfer by which tissue concentrations of chemicals in organisms at one trophic level exceed tissue concentrations in organisms at the next lower trophic level in a food chain” (United States Geological Survey, 2015). Toxicity through biomagnification affects animals from the lowest on the food chain to apex predators, and can even affect humans that consume seafood. Organisms that are higher up in the food chain are the ones most affected by biomagnification.

Animals can also ingest sharp objects which causes internal bleeding.

Entanglement is another problem that marine debris produces. Marine wildlife can becoming entangled in marine debris such as large plastics, fishing gear, and nets. Once an animal is entangled it can cause “suffocation, starvation, drowning, increased vulnerability to predators, or other injury” (EPA, 2012). Every year “more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles” are killed through entanglement and ingestion of marine debris (Ocean Conservancy, 2008).

“In 2007, International Coastal Cleanup volunteers found 237 ocean animals entangled in trash during the three-hour event including; 81 Birds, 63 Fish, 49 Invertebrates, 30 Mammals, 11 Reptiles and 1 Amphibian were found entangled in fishing line, fishing nets, six-pack holders, plastic bags and balloon string, to name only a few” (Ocean Conservancy, 2008).

Debris that is often not noticed are the ones that sink to the bottom. Although these debris are not floating and causing entanglement and ingestion problems, they can still be just as impactful to the environment. The debris that sink are often affect benthic habitats and organisms. Coral reefs and marine plants can be smothered by marine debris that sinks and covers them. Marine debris that sinks is also much harder to clean than the ones that float in the ocean.

Marine debris is an issue on the global and local scale. There are globally two main garbage patches in the Pacific Gyre. There is the Eastern and the Western garbage patch. The high density of marine debris “particularly between 20oN and 40oN latitude, within a few hundred miles of the coast and in the gyre centers, between the tropical and subarctic waters” (EPA, 2011). Marine debris is hard to track because of how massive the Pacific Ocean is and how small the marine debris is. Conducting marine debris surveys during clean ups can help track marine debris pattern, movements, and predict when there might be influxes of marine debris.

Locally, marine debris is becoming an increasingly persistent problem in the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound Areas. “2012 marine debris monitoring data shows that both the amount and composition of annual marine debris deposition in PWS increased remarkably from previous years. The annual deposition of Styrofoam and other foamed plastic debris shot up by an average of 7-fold by weight” (Pallister, 2012). Montague Island is a barrier island located in the Gulf of Alaska and near the entrance of Prince William Sound. Montague Island was identified as one of the priority areas for marine debris removal in the state. (ADEC, 2012) One of the reasons it was determined to be a priority area for cleanup is due to its location. Airborne Technology Inc’s survey determined that the shores of Montague and Kayak islands contain the heaviest deposits of tsunami debris. (Pallister, 2012) It is a major hunting destination and is home many different species of wildlife. Examples of the wildlife inhabiting the island are marmots, brown bears, voles, sea lions, black tailed deer, and moose. A variety of marine species such as halibut, killer whales, humpback whales also reside near the shoreline.

After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, vast amounts of marine debri made its way to Alaskan coasts thus adding to the already overwhelming amount of marine debris found in Alaskan waters. In 2013, Japan donated $100,000,000 towards cleaning up the estimated 1.5 million tons of debris that was washed out into the Pacific Ocean following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The state already plans on using $900,000 from the funds donated by Japan. Fundraising could also be done to raise additional funds for marine debris clean up projects. There have been many surveys and marine debris clean ups done in the recent past. In 2013 and 2014 marine debris was collected in heavy duty trash bags, shipped to Kodiak, moved somewhere else or collected on a specific area on the island. A project currently in progress will remove the hundreds of trash bags stockpiled in Kodiak and on the island using a barge. The overall trip is estimated to take an estimated month or two. Working a barge to ship the debris to different locations alone costs $17,000 per day. The state will also be using $900,000 from the $1 million donated by Japan specifically meant for projects like this to remove marine debris, some of which is from the 2011 tsunami in Japan that has made its way to Alaskan coasts from the North Pacific currents. The total cost of this project is estimated to be roughly around $1.3 million.

People are trying to prevent further marine debris from accumulating on the island. Anchorage landfills now require fishing nets and other items often found as marine debris to be cut up to lessen the hazard to marine organisms. Many non-direct things are being done to lessen the overall amount and hazard of marine debris but “It’s like it never really goes away unless we get in there and actively remove it,” says state tsunami marine debris coordinator Janna Stewart. Because of how much of Alaska consists of coastline the trips to remove marine debris is incredibly costly, and dangerous. Rough seas and bad weather can cause what would be quick trips to be lengthy and in some cases life threatening. Because of the insane costs of these projects it is hard to get them into action, and to be very effective. One of the things Alaska needs to help this is more money, ways to make the trips more effective, less expensive, or a way to lessen the amount of marine debris accumulating on the coasts of Alaska, or more specifically the marine debris on Montague Island. (Bohrer, 2015).

A standardized marine debris survey should be conducted during a cleanup on Montague Island. NOAA Marine Debris Shoreline Survey Field Guide, by Sarah Opfer, Courtney Arthur, and Sherry Lippiatt provides a detailed description and step by step process to conduct a marine debris survey (Opfer, 2012). Having specialists conduct the clean ups and surveys would be ideal but for most applications using volunteers would be more practical and resourceful. Regardless, there are standards and protocol that should be followed to produce accurate data. A marine debris accumulation NOAA survey will be used when conducting this survey. Before starting the cleanup, there has to be low tide. Make sure to have the Debris Density Data Sheet from NOAA, trash bags, writing utensils, digital camera, 100 foot measuring tape, and a handheld global positioning system. After that, the corners of the area that are going to be surveyed need to be marked with GPS and an object. The back of the shoreline will be where the primary substrate changes or a barrier like a vegetation line. The entire area needs to be traversed and surveyed in straight lines lines that are either parallel to the water or perpendicular. The walking area should be in an organized pattern that is easy to follow. If there are multiple surveys then the area that needs to be surveyed can be divided among individuals. When looking for debris, record debris that measures over 2.5 cm, or 1 inch, in the longest dimension. If the debris is bigger than 1 foot then record it in the large debris section of the Debris Density Data Sheet. Last is to take pictures and site some of the debris (Opfer, 2012). The data will be stored and interpreted using tools like graphs to help visualize trends and marine debris as a whole. Data from other organizations like NOAA and NPS can be shared and compared to the data from the recent survey. It is important to keep open communication with other organizations and sharing data to produce better results.

Montague Island is remote and only accessible by boat or helicopter. The amount of debris that is on the island would require a barge and a helicopter to airlift the debris onto the barge (Feidt, 2014). Because of these factors, removing marine debris from the island is challenging and expensive.

Marine debris is a global and local issue, the tides and currents spread debris throughout the ocean. For that reason, prevention and education must be a large scale effort, any land touching the ocean needs to be a part of it.

For any form of marine debris, the best way of prevention is to properly dispose of it before it makes its way into the ocean. The first line of defense is prevention and education. This can be achieved in a multitude of different ways, one of which starts with educating students in the classroom. By teaching the upcoming generations to be mindful and aware of the planet we live on, it creates a ripple effect that will ultimately create an everlasting awareness of the dangers that Plastics should be recycled as well as stored and transported in containers that won’t spill their contents. In fact, Marpol Annex V, “formally called the 1978 Protocol to the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships, established regulations on discharging ship-generated garbage. These regulations include a prohibition on discharging any plastics at sea.”(EPA, 2015). This makes it illegal to dump plastic at sea but a large number of plastic debris is caused by littering or the improper storage and transportation of plastic.

Stormwater debris can be prevented in several ways. Firstly, all stormwater discharge points require a Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to ensure that they are properly handling the discharge. This means that they cannot dump debris into the ocean. The main form of preventing stormwater debris however, is to educate the public to control debris on the street because “actions like littering, leaving garbage cans uncovered, and dumping of solid waste and old equipment near inland water bodies can leave debris in the path of stormwater which carries the debris into water bodies.”(EPA, 2015).

Educating the public on marine debris is the most important way of preventing marine debris, changing people’s habits and making them more conscientious about littering will go a long ways in reducing marine debris. One example being the Storm Drain Stenciling Program where people paint signs on storm drains to discourage waste dumping. The Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act also makes government agencies educate the public to reduce debris. Increasing the number of programs like these will create.

A team from Gulf of Alaska Keeper have spent 50 days cleaning the beaches of Montague Island, as part of a multi-year effort (Gonzalez, 2015). Marine debris does not just affect marine animals but also the human population. For example, marine debris affects the environment, economy, human health and safety (Impact, 2015). We spend a huge amount of money to clean up places such as Montague Island and other places. This is hurting our economy and we need to do something about it.

One negative effect of marine debris is that it severely impacts the marine life. In fact, “136 marine species worldwide, including 86% (6 of 7) of all sea turtle species, 16% (51 of 312) of all seabird species, and 28% (32 of 115) of all marine mammal species” (NOAA, 2014) have been in an entanglement situation.

Out of all marine sea life, seals and turtles have the highest recorded number of entanglements. Pinnipeds usually get entangled with objects such as fishing line around their necks. This can lead to difficulty in breathing, eating, and result in death. Sea turtles often mistake floating plastic bags as jellyfish and choke to death on them.

There is not currently an organization in Alaska that actively goes out and rescues animals. However, there are plenty of ways for animals to be rescued. The Alaska Sealife Center has a animal rescue hotline for people who find sea animals in distress and there are numerous people out on the waterways from fishermen to Park Service employees.

The Alaska Sealife Center rehabilitation program takes in stranded animals from the ocean and nurses them back to health in their facility. These animals, some being affected by marine debris, are a huge part of the ocean ecosystems of Alaska and Montague Island. The Sealife Center is helping to bring back these animals affected by the debris.

Rehabilitation is the act of restoring something to its original state. The Alaska Sealife Center’s mission in this program is to help restore these habitats. For more than 20 years, plastic debris has been accumulating on the ocean surface. This period corresponds with the growth of plastic material production (Thompson, 2004). Certain constituents of the debris could take more than 500 years to decompose. Recently, the issue of microplastics (fragments less than 5 mm) has attracted increasing attention worldwide. This ubiquitous, persistent debris requires centuries to completely degrade. Microplastics are accumulating at the sea surface, especially within the neustonic habitat (Ryan, 2009). This habitat harbors a diverse and specifically adapted zooplankton fauna. Several oceanographic surveys reported high, geographically extensive concentrations of microplastics over oceans and seas: the Northeast Pacific Ocean (Doyle, 2011), the central Northern Pacific Ocean (Moore, 2001), the Sargasso Sea (Law, 2010) and the waters off California (Lattin et al., 2004) all showed high abundances of microplastics at the sea surface. Microplastics are obviously unsightly. Moreover, it is probable that a wide range of marine organisms are affected by plastic wastes in the sea. Macro-debris ingestion and entanglement are well documented in seabirds, mammals and turtles and more recently in fishes and invertebrates (Murray, 2011). The potential confusion of microplastic particles with plankton by filter feeders in the neuston in the North Pacific Gyre has been discussed (Moore et al., 2001). These authors compared the relative abundance of microplastic particles and zooplankton to specifically assess the potential impact of plastic and animal prey on filtering organisms. That study highlighted a relatively high ratio of microplastic abundance to plankton abundance (1:5), which may suggest a potential impact of micro debris on various biota in this region.

There are already many activities at the Alaska Sealife Center that focus on marine debris. There is an octopus sculpture that consists of marine debris removed from beaches surrounding Resurrection Bay, her name is Ophelia. There is also an interactive television screen that allows you to choose videos to watch. Some of the videos included are focused on marine debris, and marine debris clean up.

One of the most important things that can be done in the future is educating the general public of the importance of protecting our oceans. The interactive screen mentioned above located in the Alaska SeaLife Center is helping to do this. In fact, the Sea Life Center is an important resource in public education and is influential in the public view of marine debris. Public outreach should be the number one priority. Public outreach creates more awareness which can contribute to less marine debris being created as well as increased funding and volunteers. With volunteers, more work could be done using less money. Increased fundraising would get more money for transporting people and marine debris. After this, the next step would be to dramatically increase the number of clean ups. Due to the remote location of Montague Island, transportation would be hard. As aforementioned, the only ways of getting to the island are by boat and helicopter. The season must also be taken into account, there is a drastic increase of storms in the winter, and though it would be best to have cleanups year round, it is not practical. The most cost-effective way to transport people to Montague Island would be by boat. Because this is a continuing process, it would be most cost effective to buy a boat. A boat that could carry enough people and equipment for the Once the beaches of Montague island are debris free, aside from proposing routine surveys and cleanups, more attention can be diverted to prevention.

In conclusion, marine debris is a major problem that severely impact both Alaska’s economy and marine ecosystems. With the help of the Alaska Sealife Center, more attractions that focus on marine debris can be created. By increasing awareness and organizing periodic cleanups and surveys, the marine debris problem in Montague Island and other areas can be better understood, prevented, predicted, and controlled. This can only be accomplished through public awareness programs such as marine debris art shows, exhibits, and student awareness groups. In addition to this, volunteers can be recruited and trained to participate in surveys to estimate the amount and types of marine debris present. Modeling tools can also be used to track trends in marine debris and predict the location of where debris will likely accumulate. Although, the Japan Tsunami brought attention to the problem of marine debris on the coast of Alaska, the problem of debris accumulation is continuous and has been for decades. Therefore, efforts to clean up marine debris needs to be continuous as well. Hopefully, with enough public outreach people will have a better understanding and awareness of just how fragile our marine ecosystems are. The greater the amount of people aware of how important it is that we protect our oceans, the greater the chance of them actually doing something to help conserve them.


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Coastal Resilience from Marine Debris on Montague Island

Marine debris is an increasing global problem in the oceans and along Alaska’s coastline. Marine debris is any man made item that gets put into the sea. Some sources of marine debris include tsunamis, windblown from shores, deliberate or accidental garbage disposal into the sea, and improperly secured or disposed of refuge such as derelict fishing gear.

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