Local and federal players re-vamping ocean debris cleanup

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Ocean debris is a global crisis, experts say, impacting Alaska more than any other U.S. state. Local and federal players are working to address the buildup of debris along Alaska’s shorelines.

Gulf of Alaska Keeper President Chris Pallister points to debris from the 2011 Japan Tsunami, found in Alaska this summer. (KTUU)

Ocean currents are delivering millions of pounds of debris to Alaska’s doorstep, according to non-profit conservation group Gulf of Alaska Keeper. Its president Chris Pallister has been cleaning up this debris for almost 20 years.

"We have probably, without a doubt, the worst marine debris problem in the United States. Maybe one of the worst in the world," Pallister said. “It's becoming, in our opinion, a very serious threat to our salmon fisheries; and it has potential to have very serious impacts on food security and food safety in this country."

Pallister estimates his non-profit has removed over 3 million pounds of toxic plastic debris from over 1,500 miles of Alaskan shorelines. He says ocean currents bring at least 60 percent of these pollutants from countries with under-developed waste management systems.

Senator Dan Sullivan is the lead author of a new bill -- Save our Seas 2 – which seeks to curb the amount of ocean debris hitting U.S. shores through improving waste management infrastructure in developing countries.

"This is a solvable environmental problem, and yet it's a huge problem for the oceans,” Sullivan said. "There is an important element that is kind of encouraging and giving technical assistance to these countries that need development in terms of their waste management infrastructure."

Sullivan says conservation groups and around 50 different companies are rallying behind the new bill. He says industry has contributed $1.5 billion in funding to try and cut ocean debris off at its source.

Sullivan intends to bring Save our Seas 2 to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works by the end of next week. It would then make its way to the House Floor. He says the Trump Administration is on board with passing the bill.

While the bill works its way through the legislative process, the Gulf of Alaska Keeper looks to the future with hope.

“Anything helps,” Pallister said. “And I've worked closely with Sen. Sullivan and Sen. Murkowski, and they have really pushed for this stuff. I’m just happy to see it happen."

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