Removing Marine Debris from Shuyak Island in the Gulf of Alaska
A volunteer in a kayak with a bag of debris.
Volunteers traveled to Shuyak Island via kayak to remove debris. (Photo Credit: ITN)

The Island Trails Network and the NOAA Marine Debris Program teamed up to remove marine debris from 60 miles of shoreline on Shuyak Island in the western Gulf of Alaska.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Alaska

Project Dates: August 2015 - September 2017

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, the Island Trails Network (ITN) led an innovative two-year effort to remove marine debris from a remote island in Alaska. Working with 100 volunteers and trained crew, ITN executed a kayak-based cleanup operation and remove approximately 40,000 pounds of marine debris from Shuyak Island, a remote location with critical habitat for numerous species of birds, fish, and marine mammals where a large amount of marine debris accumulates due to currents and winds.

What is the project and why is it important?
Shuyak Island is located in the northeastern part of the Kodiak Archipelago, a group of rugged islands approximately 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Shuyak Island is rich in biodiversity and is located near some of the most plentiful and diverse fishing grounds in the world, with the Port of Kodiak consistently ranked as one of the top three economically-important fishing ports in the United States. Unfortunately, Shuyak Island is exposed to high winds and strong currents that drive accumulation of debris in this important area. Following aerial surveys which identified numerous medium to large debris items and long stretches of high marine debris accumulation, specific areas of Shuyak Island were identified as high priority targets for removal of debris and selected as the focus of this project.

Island Trails Network coordinated this effort, utilizing community volunteers and trained field crew to access the remote island. Because of the rugged terrain and active surf, debris can often be hard to reach and harder to remove. Using sea kayaks to deploy volunteers allowed access to these difficult locations. Qualified volunteers from around the world, working in two-week shifts over an eight-week period, paddled to these target areas and remove marine debris, collecting it in super-sacks and piling it at more accessible locations. Later, the collected marine debris was loaded onto a large vessel for transport back to Kodiak, where the debris was sorted and transported for disposal. Following the field season, the crew, additional community volunteers, and student groups analyzed and sorted the removed debris to determine its composition and quantity. This information was documented in photographs, videos, and displays which are used for local, statewide, and national education and outreach on the impacts of marine debris.

For more information on this project, check out the Marine Debris Clearinghouse.