Divers clean up Auke Rec on Saturday

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

There's more trash than treasure underwater and on Saturday Juneau divers will clean some of it up.

While the divers work underwater, their friends and family will clean up the beach and keep chili warm over a fire, said Su Lachelt, co-owner of Channel Dive Center. Channel Dive and The Scuba Tank are co-sponsoring the Juneau cleanup.

The event, starting at 1 p.m. at Auke Rec, is part of an annual International Coastal Cleanup organized by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and The Ocean Conservancy.

There are dirtier beaches than Auke Rec, Lachelt said, but she lets divers vote on where to clean up, and they always choose Auke Rec. This year they'll move farther down the beach than before, Lachelt said.

"There's always garbage to be found," Lachelt said.

In 1999, 16 volunteers filled almost 15 trash bags with bottles, cans, fishing line, diapers, fishing lures, meat packaging, broken balloons, a kite, a road sign and lots of cigarette butts.

Picking up underwater has a few twists not found on land. Sometimes the garbage is inhabited by crabs or encrusted in barnacles or mussels.

"Of course, the rule is if it's already become a habitat it's left down there," Lachelt said.

Sometimes what seemed like a nice home when the little crab crawled inside has become a trap as it grew.

"Last year we liberated quite a few little crabs that had gotten stuck in bottles," Lachelt said. "We very carefully cracked the bottle with our knives and let them go, then took the bottles up."

Occasionally divers also find carved stone artifacts on the sea floor at Auke Rec from the days when the Auk Tribe had a village there. It's illegal to remove those, Lachelt said.

"We've seen bowls, little animal figures and pipes," Lachelt said. "That all has to be left out there because that's part of the heritage."

Other volunteers will be cleaning up shorelines in Naknek, Seward and Kenai, said Kent Berklund, who's organized the cleanup day in Alaska for six years. Statewide 148 people picked up 3,706 pounds of trash along 42 miles of beach last year.

"A lot of it is just the detritus of society," Berklund said.

About 55 percent of the trash in the water originated on land and was washed, blown or dumped into streams or rivers that flow to the sea.

Trash on the beach and in the water endangers the animals living there. Cigarette butts regularly top the list of garbage picked up on beaches in Alaska and around the world. The butts contain filters made of a kind of plastic that takes up to seven years to biodegrade. Birds, whales and other marine animals eat the butts, causing intestinal problems and sometimes death, according to the Ocean Conservancy. Researchers have found that more than 15 percent of all sea birds have either eaten plastic or tried to feed it to their young.

Fishing line is a big problem in Alaska, where it is the third most common kind of garbage found in the water, Berklund said. The lost line continues to "ghost fish," tangling birds, fish and other marine life. During one three-hour cleanup, volunteers around the world found 355 animals tangled in debris, mostly birds or fish caught in fishing line.


Kristan Hutchison can be reached at khutchison@juneauempire.com.

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