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Habitat and Marine Chemistry Program

First Phase of Alaska Marine Debris Survey Completed

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NOAA scientists surveying the beaches of Southeast Alaska for marine debris found this fragment of trawl web entangled with beach logs, along with two single-use water bottles and a dishwashing soap bottle in Veta Bay on Baker Island. Photo credit NOAA Fisheries.

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ABL scientists have completed the first phase of several planned surveys of Alaska’s coast for marine debris. In June ABL completed surveys in southeastern Alaska, covering 36 sites along the 600 km of the outer coast. This year’s survey adds to a series of surveys ABL has conducted over the last 40 years. There is the added factor of possible debris from Japan’s March 2011 tsunami.  ABL scientist Jacek Maselko is leading the field effort, which also includes Jason Rolfe, acting Deputy Chief of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and three others.

Styrofoam fragments larger than softballs (smaller size pieces are essentially innumerable) and plastic single-use water bottles are the most prevalent debris.  The amount and types of marine debris on Southeast Alaskan shores was not unusual, but 27 large black oval floats were observed at 11 of the 36 sites. Floats like these have been reported to NOAA by residents of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska in the last few months. Are these floats from the tsunami?  Marine debris from Japan and other Asian countries has been seen over the years, so the trick is determining whether a particular item of debris is, in fact, from the Japan tsunami or just typical marine debris seen most years.  Our 40-year time series of surveys provides a good baseline for comparison, and the results from this summer’s work should provide a more complete picture. Surveys to the north and west will occur later this summer.  More>

By Jacek Maselko



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