Community cleanup event tackles Unalaska’s marine debris
Unalaska is over a week into its annual community cleanup event, and dozens of volunteers have already removed over 400 bags of trash from local beaches and roads.
Harmony Wayner grew up between Unalaska and the Bristol Bay region, and now works with Alaska Sea Grant, a conservation and research organization focused on protecting Alaska oceans. She traveled to Unalaska to participate in the cleanup as part of her work addressing ocean pollution.
Wayner’s work focuses specifically on marine debris. She says a lot of the trash on Unalaska shores — and shores around the state — didn’t originate locally. Currents swirl around the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, carrying refuse that lands on local beaches.
“This isn't a problem that is coming from communities that are, you know, leaving chip bags on the beach,” Wayner said. “It's a larger issue of lost fishing gear from industrial fishing, or distant-sourced debris from Asia.”
One of the biggest concerns with marine debris is microplastic. Things like plastic bottles and styrofoam break down into smaller pieces that fish can mistake for food, introducing plastic into the food web.
“They ingest it and the stomachs of the animals just can't process human-made materials like that,” Wayner said. “It sticks around and either gets absorbed into the body, or it can lead to the death of the animal.”
Organized by the Department of Parks, Culture, and Recreation, Unalaska’s community cleanup runs through May 15. You can volunteer by calling 581-1297 or stopping by the community center. You can also find more details here.