In two weeks local volunteers will take to Kodiak’s beaches in the first ever Coast Walk, a two-day event devoted to marine debris clean up and removal. Participants can choose one of the 81 road system beaches, and Kodiak Island Trails Network will provide the bags and materials to clean them up.
While it’s unlikely that Alaska Senator Mark Begich will be in Kodiak during the event, he did take some time during his most recent visit to learn more about the growing problem of marine debris. KMXT’s Brianna Gibbs has more.
On Saturday, Crab Fest attendees shouted and cheered as rides rumbled along and music boomed through loudspeakers scattered throughout the festival. You could faintly hear those sounds across the water, in Gibson Cove, where the atmosphere was very different.
Outside the NOAA law enforcement office, Senator Mark Begich toured a field of marine debris collected from beaches in the Kodiak Archipelago. Giant white bags, filled to the brim with abandoned buoys, derelict fishing nets and massive quantities of Styrofoam, surrounded Begich and ITN Director Andy Schroeder.
“What’s some of the stuff
that you get here?"
"So since the tsunami we’re seeing a lot more foam,
and we used to see less than 10 percent foam, now that number’s just
gone way up."
"Is there any way to have a test of what this is? In the
sense of the materials so you can determine maybe where it’s
manufactured. You know if we can do CSI stuff, why can’t you do CSI on
this. Because obviously the product is manufactured somewhere so it’s a
certain type of chemical make up of this product."
"Well what you’re
talking about is science and research, and if I could draw a parallel to
climate change. In the ocean you have H2O and then in the atmosphere
you have nitrogen and oxygen, but both of them – huge volumes. Something
that was so big we used to think that we couldn’t really impact it or
affect it in any way, but now we realize we’re at that tipping point
where we realize we can. Climate change, again, hard to describe -- some
people still doubt its existence (I serve with some of those people).
It’s the same with marine debris. With climate change, all of emphasis
now is on researching it understanding the problem. I don’t feel like
there is enough of that with marine debris. We don’t fully understand
the impacts. We don’t fully understand what plastics in our environment
or in our food chain can do to human health. And I would like to see
more research to both tracing this and on downstream of the marine
debris event. What are the impacts?”
Begich said marine debris should be approached as an international
issue, and hopes there will be a greater opportunity to do just that
with former Senator John Kerry now serving as Secretary of State.
“It’s an international issue
it’s not just a national issue. It’s not just here. When he was Senator
Kerry he and I worked on several things on oceans, and now to have him
as secretary is actually an opportunity that may have not existed before
to bring in other countries and say look, we can argue all we want
about who’s causing it, how it’s being caused, but we know it’s
happening. So the better question is what are we going to do?”
In February, Begich was appointed to the Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Intergovernmental Affairs. He
said this position could serve the marine debris clean up issue well,
especially if it is approached as a national disaster.
“We’re obviously dealing with a
lot down in Oklahoma right now, but that’s an emergency you see right
away. This emergency, this disaster, you will not see right away. It’s a
prolonged, slow, evolving disaster. And you can make two choices. You
can deal with it now, or you can wait. And when you wait, I can
guarantee you it’s going to be a lot more expensive. But it’s a great debate
because as we sit there in the committee and talk about earthquakes or
storm Sandy, or what happened in Oklahoma. People see those, they’re
visual right away. Volcano exploding -- they see it. This, it’s hard for
them to grab onto. And it’s a much harder education to get people to
say OK, we get it, we may not feel it, it may not have an impact on
someone’s life today, but if we let it go to one of our most important
food stocks – fish, you’re going to see an impact.”
Begich said one of his goals in the coming months will be to get
more funding for marine debris clean ups, be it through the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, or somewhere else.
“For Japan to bring millions
to the table, and why we don’t match that dollar for dollar, in new
dollars, not just existing, when they recognize the impact that they’ve
"We need to, and we’re going to be advocating for federal assistance
as we work. Now the state money will get us started, and I’m really
happy to see them stepping up. But this is multiyear and cost more than
what they’ve put forward so far.”
That was Kodiak Island Trails Director Andy Schroeder talking with
Alaska Senator Mark Begich about marine debris. Begich was in Kodiak
over the weekend and toured a marine debris sorting yard to see first
hand what is being collected on Alaska’s beaches.