NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator Aleria Jensen is concerned about packing materials like this six-pack loop, found during a beach cleanup, that too often end up in the marine environment.
This handful of small trash was among the items picked up from a beach on Portland Island.
Story last updated at 5/28/2014 - 2:06 pm
If you've been to one of the 14 islands that make up the Juneau Channel Islands State Marine Park, chances are you left something behind. Don't worry - it's been found.
Trash left at a campsite and scattered by wildlife on Portland Island, and an ax misplaced behind a log on Coghlan Island was among two boatloads of trash collected May 13 during a beach cleanup operation involving six participants from the Alaska State Parks and NOAA Fisheries.
"This is the third year I've organized beach clean-up efforts to retrieve trash left behind by recreationists or washed ashore on the tide," said Southeast Alaska State Parks Chief Ranger Kevin Murphy. "Many hands make light work, so I invited other stewardship-minded folks like those from NOAA Fisheries to help this year."
"Our agency is concerned about the harmful effects of marine debris on wildlife," said Aleria Jensen, marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Protected Resources division. "Styrofoam and plastics can be ingested by marine mammals and cause fatalities. Marine debris also represents an entanglement hazard. Ultimately, the summer season of boating and beach campfires is a time to remember personal responsibility."
Last year, 186 stranding events were reported to the agency, including cases that involved entangled Steller sea lions, harbor porpoises, humpback whales, beluga whales and Northern fur seals.
NOAA Fisheries employees kept a sharp lookout for items that form a loop, which represent particular hazards for shorebirds and marine mammals. One of the most dangerous types of loop material is the packing band, commonly used on fish boxes and in many other industries. NOAA Fisheries and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have documented numerous cases of Steller sea lions and Northern fur seals with these bands around their necks.
Locals in Juneau may be familiar with male sea lion H80, commonly seen on Benjamin Island or hauled out on the Poundstone Buoy, with a deeply ingrown packing band around his neck. An attempt was made to remove the band, but it was so embedded that removal would have required surgery. Similar cases have occurred in British Columbia, where officials have recently successfully removed packing bands from necks of sea lions.
NOAA Fisheries marine mammal specialist Kate Savage was a member of the cleanup crew. "One of our public messages is 'Lose the Loop,'" said Savage. "Along with packing bands, many types of materials such as rubber banding, nets and rope can form inflexible loops that entangle marine wildlife."
The Portland-Coughlan Island cleanup yielded 22 tires, rusty burn barrels, spent shotgun shells, articles of clothing, and numerous bottles and cans - enough trash to fill two boats.
"You never know what you are going to find," added Murphy's assistant Gerry Landry. "We have found some surprising items in the past, like a full-size refrigerator. How in the world did a refrigerator get out on an island?"
For more information on the Juneau Channel Islands State Marine Park, visit http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/channelisl.htm or http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/southeast/juneauchannelsmp.htm
Marine debris and marine mammal entanglement and the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Program: http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/entanglement/