Sunshine, hot summer temperatures, blue skies, calm water – these are not usually terms to describe our Kodiak Archipel! Yet, the ten days I spent on tour with the Island C to clean up beaches on Shuyak Island, I was consistently surprised with these attributes. The weather was not the only surprise on this trip; it was a group of high school students who really warmed my heart with their actions.
As part of a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Fund, Island Trails Network worked with a group of students through the Student Conservation Association on a project to clean up marine debris, specifically entangling debris from heavily impacted beaches. This was the first such effort in the target areas of Shuyak since the government set aside money for cleanups after the flood of marine debris following the 2011 Japanese Tsunami.
Day after day, the group of students supported by two group leaders and a boat crew were taken to the most stunning beaches. Every morning, group leaders made sure that everyone had water and snacks, sunscreen, gloves, a knife and plenty of yellow garbage bags. Then, the first team would board the skiff and put on their life jackets for a quick ride to a nearby beach. A second team would tackle another beach. When a team finished one beach, they radioed in for the skiff to take them to the next site.
With hard manual labor the teams cleaned beach after beach, picking up buoys, bottles, buckets, styrofoam from packing and insulation and countless plastic items. The most challenging were the lost and discarded fishing nets and tangles of line, which were always wrapped around driftwood logs and tree stumps, partly buried by beach pebbles or already overgrown by bank vegetation.