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St. George Takes Steps To Preserve Marine Environment

KUCB Photo / John Ryan

St. George Island is taking steps to protect the marine environment in their backyard. The city council passed a resolution earlier this month that could establish a National Marine Sanctuary. Eighty people live on the island of St. George. They're primarily Unangan and they rely on ocean resources for subsistence.

Mayor Patrick Pletnikoff says over the past five years the community has noticed a significant decline in the population of fur seals and seabirds and they need to take action now.

“There is no need to extract everything in the Bering sea or get it down to the point where animals such as seals and seabirds can't sustain themselves," Pletnikoff said. "I mean, when you start seeing these kinds of die-offs you wonder if we may have allowed it to go too far without saying anything about it."

Pletnikoff says the first step is to raise money and hire experts who will help decipher research done in the area by government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Then, the city will look at how best to safeguard the ocean resources. Right now, they're considering applying for federal marine sanctuary status that would offer the area some level of protection.

"It at least makes all stakeholders have a seat at the table," Pletnikoff said. "Everybody that has any interest in what we're thinking about doing is welcome to that table to sit down and discuss it with us."

The transparency of applying for marine sanctuary status appeals to Pletnikoff. Plus, he says it would protect the marine environment without automatically prohibiting fishing or reconstructing the island's port.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.