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Alaska Fish Factor: Big Alaska Marine Debris Cleanup Begins

Sustainability Economics Politics +5 more

US - Kodiak volunteers were scrambling with front end loaders and dump trucks to ready 200,000 pounds of super sacks for the first pick up of a massive marine debris removal project that begins in Alaska this week.

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The month long cleanup, which is backed by a who’s who of state and federal agencies, non-profits and private businesses, will deploy a 300 foot barge and helicopters to remove thousands of tons of marine debris from some of the world’s harshest and most remote coastlines.

“This is a really big deal for Alaska. We have one of the world’s newest and largest barges and an airlift operation that will fly over 2,000 helicopter trips from barge to shore. It is an unprecedented effort,” said Candice Bressler, Public Information Officer for the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation, lead agency for the project.

Most of the debris stems from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which sent an estimated 1.5 million tons of flotsam and jetsam afloat in the North Pacific. Japan has donated $5 million to the coast-wide cleanup up effort.

The barge Dioskouroi (the world’s 5th largest; leased by Waste Management, Inc.) will load up in Kodiak on July 15, and be towed out the next day by the M/V Billie H.

The big tug will traverse the Gulf of Alaska and proceed along the Southeast coast to British Columbia, picking up debris sacks that were cached and bundled on remote beaches over past field seasons.

“We’ve found building fragments, derelict vessels, lots of Styrofoam, aquaculture and fishing buoys from all over, fuel tanks and tons of lines and nets,” Bressler said.

DEC began flying Alaska’s coastline in 2012 to map the debris by its density and movement, and captured more than 15,000 geo-references to help pinpoint where to focus cleanup efforts.

“Definitely our biggest players in this were Gulf of Alaska Keeper (which is coordinating the airlift project) and Island Trails Network of Kodiak. They were instrumental in caching all this debris throughout the Gulf of Alaska.”

The final destination is Seattle, where the goods will be sent for sorting and recycling, with remaining debris sent by train to a final disposal site in Oregon.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the unprecedented generosity from the government of Japan. They have been so generous and so open to helping out with this issue, and we are so incredibly thankful for their help,” Bressler said.

A Kodiak kickoff event is set for July 16 with DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig. Follow the voyage on social media at #bargewatch2015/

Nets to nouveau fashion? Some of the tons of lines and nets from the marine debris airlift could be turned into high end shoes and clothing. The international group Parley for the Oceans is coordinating the marine debris recycling effort in Seattle, and reportedly is planning on using the plastic materials in jeans.

Parley made headlines last week when it launched a line of shoes in partnership with Adidas that are made from recycled gillnets taken from pirate fishing vessels.

“Our objective is to boost public awareness and to inspire new collaborations that can contribute to protect and preserve the oceans,” said Parley founder Cyrill Gutsh in a press release.

“We are extremely proud that Adidas is joining us in this mission and is putting its creative force behind this partnership to show that it is possible to turn ocean plastic into something cool.”

Aging of the fleet applies to boats - Alaska has a lot of old boats, and upcoming safety rules are aimed directly at those older vessels. Others are coming up fast that affect fishing boats of all ages.

According to a state Dept. of Commerce report, roughly 9,400 boats (over 28 feet) make up Alaska’s maritime fleet. Of those 69 percent are in the fishing and processing sector, 15 percent are recreational boats; freight carriers, sightseeing and oil and gas vessels make up the rest.

Over 90 percent of the Alaska fleet is less than 100 feet long, and 74 percent are under 50 feet. By far most of the boats were built between 1970 and 1989; nearly 1,000 are more than 50 years old.

“What’s called an Alternate Safety Compliance Program is aimed at vessels that are 25 years old by 2020, greater than 50 feet in length, and operating beyond three nautical miles. So this is a new program,” said Troy Rentz, program compliance coordinator for the USCG 13th District
The new requirements are part of the 2010 US Coast Guard Authorization Act, and won’t become mandatory until January 1 of 2020 for most vessels.

“However the Coast Guard needs to proscribe the program by January 1 of 2017,” Rentz emphasized.

Coming up faster: Fishing vessel dock side exams become mandatory on October 15 of this year for boats fishing outside three miles.

“If you have an exam decal it is still valid. If you don’t, make an appointment with the Coast Guard now and avoid the rush,” Rentz said.

By February 16, 2016, vessel survival craft must keep all parts of the body out of the water, meaning floats and other buoyant apparatus will no longer be legal.