Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tracking trash in the Pribiloff Islands

I was very impressed with Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns, an in depth look at just what we dump in the ocean every year and how it affects marine wildlife (and the water itself.) Here's a bit from an interview I had with her for the Winter Blog Blast Tour last November:

To be honest, the environmental part of this story snuck up on me. I was still very focused on the science of ocean currents the first time I interviewed Curt. At some point during that interview I asked him how many containers fall off of cargo ships each year, and his answer shocked me: between one thousand and ten thousand. Ten thousand! That was the moment I began to wonder how much trash was actually in the ocean, and the direction of my research changed dramatically.

The very real impact of trash in the oceans (including literally tons of abandoned or lost fishing nets and gear, is felt every year on St Paul Island where the fur seals congregate between tens of thousands of pounds of debris. The pup population is on a steady decline in the Pribiloff Islands and all this trash is considered one of the problems. The Anchorage Daily News reports:

Meanwhile, concerns about fur seals becoming entangled in debris and dying are increasing. From 1998 to 2005, there were 795 sightings on St. Paul Island of fur seals that appeared to be entangled in debris. Of those, 337 capture attempts were made and 282 fur seals were disentangled, according to the island conservation office.

"There is a culture that has abused the oceans for decades and decades and that has got to stop," said Bob King, debris coordinator of the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation.

Cleanup efforts are one way to attack the problem. Last year, 20,000 pounds of debris were removed from 2½ miles of St. Paul Island beaches -- enough to fill two 20-foot truck trailers. Cleanup organizers expect even more this year.

If you want to have your mind blown, go read Loree Griffin Burns' book and then see what you can do to clean up the area in your hometown.

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