On Sept. 6, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced a $988,000 award to the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation (MCAF), an umbrella group that supports marine cleanup efforts across Alaska.
“It’s a really big deal,” said MCAF executive director Merrick Burden by phone from Seattle. “This summer could have been the last of our marine debris efforts without more funding.”
The group has funded shoreline garbage cleanup projects since starting in 2003 with a project in the Pribilof islands. In Kodiak, it has worked with Island Trails Network every summer since 2008.
This summer, Island Trails worked with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge’s Youth Conservation Corps to clean several miles of beach at Halibut Bay at the western end of Kodiak Island.
“They’re our primary source of funding for cleaning up Kodiak beaches,” said Island Trails executive director Andy Schroeder.
“It’s a challenge for us to balance trail work with marine debris work,” Schroeder said, which is why having support from groups like MCAF is important.
Burden said the grant funding came from an application the foundation submitted through the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program. When that program expired due to a lack of funding following the last session of the Alaska Legislature, federal agencies took over administration of various grant programs.
“For the most part (our funding) has come from federal appropriations,” Burden said, including several provided by the late Sen. Ted Stevens.
This month’s grant will fund cleanup operations next summer, and Burden said the next step is determining which groups around the state will receive money, and how much.
“We try to focus it so we get the biggest bang for our buck,” he said, and that usually means working through groups like Island Trails.
Schroeder said MCAF has funded beach surveys, travel and cleanups for Island Trails. On Kodiak, he said, debris is “fairly evenly distributed around, but certain beaches because of the coastline … it just sticks around and never goes out.”
That means garbage piles up, especially on east-facing beaches exposed to storms blowing in from the Gulf of Alaska. The problem is expected to only grow worse, particularly as debris from the spring Japanese tsunami begins to reach Alaska during the next few years.
“We’ve cleaned up about 65,000 pounds over the last four years,” Schroeder said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve put only a small dent into what’s there.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.