Preventing Marine Debris on the North Slope of Alaska

Wildlife staff removing marine debris along the shore of the North Slope Borough of Alaska.

The North Slope Borough will work with eight local communities to educate students and residents about marine debris and single-use plastics by encouraging the use of alternatives and supporting community-led beach cleanups. 

Type of Project: Prevention

Region: Alaska

Project Dates: September 2020 - August 2022

Who is involved?
The North Slope Borough, through a NOAA Marine Debris Program prevention grant, will conduct outreach around marine debris, single-use items, and their effects on wildlife, utilizing hands-on activities in school and community settings, as well as experiential learning opportunities through debris removal and data collection.

What is the project and why is it important?
The North Slope Borough of Alaska is a remote and unique region with unique debris opportunities and challenges. Encompassing over 94,000 square miles, the Borough is the largest municipality in the United States, includes over 8,000 miles of Arctic coastline, but contains a small population of less than 10,000 people. Residents of its communities are closely connected to the environment around them and are first to see and respond to marine debris. Marine debris is a threat to food security. It impacts local wildlife and has been found in the stomachs of bowhead whales, polar bears, seabirds, and marine mammals - species that have critical cultural and subsistence importance for communities. The bowhead whale is of particular importance as it is at the center of Inupiat and Siberian Yupik culture.

Through this project, the North Slope Borough will work with eight communities to prevent single-use items from entering the marine environment by working with local schools, traveling to each community, and conducting remote learning to build local awareness of the problem and empower the community. A key goal of this project is to encourage and support the use of alternatives to single-use plastics (e.g., plastic grocery bags, bottles, straws), which are commonly found on local shorelines, riverbanks, and in the water. In order to help encourage long-term behavior change, the project will sponsor local beach cleanup events for two summers, with the aim of communities organizing to take these over as ongoing locally-driven events. These cleanup efforts are particularly important given the remote location of the area, and these communities. Pre and post-surveys on marine debris will also be conducted to help measure and tailor ongoing and future prevention efforts.

For more information about this project, visit the Marine Debris Program Clearinghouse.