By: Amy Uhrin, Chief Scientist for the NOAA Marine Debris Program
The Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery accounts for 50% of the United States blue crab harvest, and is worth about $80 million annually. It’s estimated that about 600,000 crab traps (also called “pots”) are actively fished on an annual basis in the Bay. Some crab pots become lost (derelict) when the pot’s buoy line becomes detached or cut, either by vessel propellers, faulty lines, or vandalism. Strong storms can also move pots from their original deployment location, making them difficult to relocate. In addition, pots may be abandoned, as has been observed at high rates in some regions of the Bay. Once lost, derelict pots can damage sensitive habitats and continue to capture blue crabs and other animals, often resulting in their death.
Over the years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, there have been many efforts around the country to rid our waters and shores of marine debris. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, let’s take a look back at one of those efforts in Alaska.
Back in 2012, the community of Tenakee Springs, Alaska received funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program to remove debris in their remote community. Tenakee Springs, with less than 100 residents, sits about 50 air miles from Juneau in Southeast Alaska and is inaccessible by road. In fact, there are no roads at all in the town, just a long, wide trail that people use to get around via foot, bike, or four-wheeler.
By:Carlie Herring, Research Analyst for the NOAA Marine Debris Program
After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the Alaskan coastline experienced a rise in debris washing ashore. Although there was an increase in many types of debris, the abundance of expanded polystyrene (think foamed plastic) increased on some beaches by as much as 1,600% from 2008 to 2012. This spurred interest by NOAA scientists at the Auke Bay Laboratory in Juneau, Alaska, to explore the interaction between this foam debris and an important Alaskan fishery species: pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha). The researchers were interested in both determining the potential of juvenile pink salmon to ingest small foam pieces and understanding the physiological consequences of ingesting foam debris (such as, would ingesting foam alter their growth rates?). Through support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the team began an experimental study to address these questions.
Although preventing marine debris is the ultimate solution, removing debris as it accumulates on our shores is an unfortunate necessity. In Alaska, there are currently some pretty cool removal efforts underway to clean up Alaska’s coasts, which are often remote and difficult to access.
The Island Trails Network (ITN) is addressing the issue of debris in remote areas in an innovative and unique way! This effort focuses on Shuyak Island, an area rich in biodiversity that’s located in the western Gulf of Alaska. This location is exposed to high winds and strong currents that cause marine debris to build up, but also make it difficult to access. To solve this problem, ITN recruited qualified volunteers from around the world to come to Alaska and clean the shoreline using sea kayaks, collecting debris and moving it to more easily-accessible areas, where it is later removed and analyzed.