Alaska editorial: Pittance won't go far to clean beaches

This editorial first appeared in the Kodiak Daily Mirror:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced it was awarding $250,000 to five states so they can clean beaches as Japanese tsunami debris washes ashore.

Sen. Mark Begich called Alaska’s $50,000 share “woefully inadequate,” and he’s absolutely right.

$50,000 is enough to clean perhaps one beach — and Alaska has thousands of miles of coastline at risk from tsunami debris.

The extent of the threat from tsunami debris is unknown, but you only have to walk out to Fossil Beach or Buskin Beach after a storm to realize the extent of the problem.

While resident beachcombers do a good job of cleaning beaches around town, there simply aren’t people willing or able to do that job across all of Kodiak’s beaches, let alone all the threatened beaches across Alaska.

Debris is more than a cosmetic problem. Seabirds mistake debris for food, eat it, then starve to death because their stomachs are filled with indigestible plastic. Fish can consume smaller pieces of garbage, and the extent of debris’ impact on them is still unknown.

Whether we start trawling for garbage at sea or simply expand our efforts on land, a larger effort is needed to avoid the wave we know is coming.

Until debris starts washing up in vast rafts, it’s an easy problem to ignore. Let’s make it an issue we can ignore — by solving it.

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