Qawalangin Tribe works to clean up beaches

By Samantha Roslund
Unalaska, Alaska (AP) 9-07

The Qawalangin Tribe has joined forces with the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation to clean up the shorelines around Unalaska.

A team of four has been working for three weeks on Morris Cove and has recently moved on to picking up debris around Summer’s Bay. Team members had hoped to wrap things up this week.

The team includes Savannah Kouchten and Faday Gromoff, who work with GPS recording and computer documentation, Alvin Berskin, driver and deliverer, and Boris Galaktionoff, who takes digital photos of the debris for documentation purposes. All are members of the tribe.

GPS is used to record the exact location of all the debris. Painstaking care is taken to make sure that the location and description of each item is recorded and categorized as is required under the contract with the foundation.

Along with samples of the trash, all this information will be sent back to the foundation in hopes that people there will have more success in tracking down the sources.

“Part of this program is to trace the origin possibilities,” said Vincent Tutiakoff, interim administrator for the Qawalangin Tribe. “Through monitoring and tracking they can find the culprits, who toss this stuff, rather than pay the fees to have it hauled away. I’m assuming a lot of this is just dumped overboard.”

Among the long list of items found along the shores are batteries, washers and dryers, computers, refrigerators, stoves, popped buoys and nets. Every item that is picked up is recorded and hauled away to the city dump.

“I was out there last year and did a quick assessment of the area beaches and the volume of the debris,” said Bob King, marine debris coordinator for the foundation. “Generally, it tends to get worse the further you get out of town, out of the reach of communities that do community-wide cleanups and police local beaches.”

He went on to explain that the further away from the more populated areas, the more substantial the accumulation that can be found. He noted materials including fishing floats, old 55-gallon drums and fish baskets.

Some of the samples taken from the debris are sent to foundation to be analyzed and broken down. In the case of the mounds of old nets picked up, samples of them are sent to determine what materials were used to make them, so as to figure out a way to recycle them efficiently.

King’s work in Unalaska started last year when he was introduced to Dixie Engman, former Qawalangin Tribe administrator. She explained that the Q Tribe has done similar work cleaning up old WWII era debris over the past several years.

“They were interested in continuing this,” King said. “They had ready and willing crews to continue this type of work.”

Tutiakoff hopes that all this effort will lead to bigger grants that will allow the tribe to clean up other parts of the island that need help in the coming summers.

“This is a small project to determine the need in the community,” Tutiakoff said. “We’re hoping to continue to work with the MCAF and that they will allow us to do more work.”

He went on to explain that the project should be completed the week of Sept. 10, due to the fact that the funding is drawing down. The grant was for $18,000 and that was used primarily for labor, transportation and materials.

If sufficient need is determined for the island, Tutiakoff would like to focus the workers’ efforts on Eider Point, Broad Bay and Amaknak Island, where he thinks the beaches could really use the help.

It’s speculated that a lot of the debris found on Aleutian shores comes from the fishing and shipping vessels that sail in that area. However, many foundation members include people from the seafood processors that operate in Alaska, the owners of most groundfish and crab vessels in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and the support industry.

Another interesting partner who has recently emerged is the Alaska Brewing Co. It did research looking for a way to channel its philanthropic efforts and decided to pull some of its workers at the plant to help out.

The company is dedicating a portion of its proceeds from the new India Pale Ale beer to Coastal CODE, Clean Oceans Depend on Everyone, a fund created by the brewing company.

Regardless of where the debris is coming from, its presence presents a big problem.

“The tribe has a lot of concerns regarding the debris due to the resources we utilize,” Tutiakoff said. “Subsistence fishing and hunting is affected when fish and marine wildlife are killed by the accumulation.”

The crew has found several birds dead along the beaches. They speculate that they were caught up in the nets and killed.

“I think Alaska needs to be concerned about the amount of traffic going through the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor area,” he said. “Ninety percent of fishing boats go right past this area, and the majority of the debris is from those boats.”

King responded optimistically on the feasibility of obtaining more grant money for future cleanup projects.

“I’m confident that with recognition of the problem of marine debris that there will be funding to continue this work,” he said.

“Last year, Congress passed a federal marine debris act that ordered the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Coast Guard to step up their efforts to clean up debris, do more research and create more education for people to ultimately prevent the problem.”

With new federal legislation in hand and a strong state delegation in Washington, D.C., King believes that people will continue to receive federal funding and increased private-sector support.

King also asks the community of Unalaska to contact him with observations about where greater accumulations are spotted along local beaches.

“We welcome them to drop us an e-mail, letting us know where (there is accumulation), so we can plan future efforts,” he said. “I have assessed many of the beaches to the west of Unalaska and there are always concentrations in Constantine Bay, Southeast Cove, Princess Cove and Malga Bay.”

King’s e-mail is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..