Welcome to St. Paul Island, a remote wind-swept island located in the heart of Alaska’s Bering Sea in one of the most important and biologically rich ecosystems in the world. The largest of the Pribilof Islands, it is home to more than half of the world’s population of northern fur seals, nearly 300 species of birds, sea lions, Arctic fox, reindeer and other plants and animals. It is also home to many Unangan, also known as Aleuts, who are part of the island’s vibrant community.
But the island’s location also makes it a focal point for marine debris carried by ocean currents. This poses a threat to this rich ecosystem and its inhabitants—both human and non-human.
Partners working for a practical solution
In an effort to help alleviate the ongoing problem of marine trash on St. Paul Island, Ocean Conservancy teamed up with the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and Trident Seafoods for a week-long marine debris cleanup in May 2019. Together, we removed nearly ten tons of trash from the island's northern shores, helping to protect some of its key fur seal and birding habitats.
These photos tell the story of the hard work, partnership and persistence it takes for this community to protect its remote island home from the unceasing onslaught of marine debris on its shores.
Charge of the Cleanup Brigade
The cleanup crew kicks off with a morning meeting and safety briefing. After that, the day steadily ramps up into a flurry of activity, beginning with travel to the designated sites where we work the shore—stooping, pushing, pulling, digging, cutting, tugging and prying at the larger pieces of debris. Then there's the dragging and heaping of piles for the “haulers” to load and tow back with their 4-wheelers to the truck drivers. The truck drivers then load up even larger piles and transport them to the local landfill.
What washes ashore...
Each item that lands on the island carries a story that the crew occasionally stops to ponder. Among the more unusual items, both organic and non-organic—glass fishing floats, whale baleen, a U.S. Navy submarine patch, and even a message in a clear plastic bottle written in Japanese characters on the back side of a mariner's guide detailing magnetic anomalies, dated October 17, 2018.
All Photos: Patricia Chambers, Ocean Conservancy