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Trackers to provide overview of incoming tsunami junk


Marine debris trackers will take to the air any day now to get a better idea of what is washing ashore, and where, as a result of last year's devastating tsunami in Japan. Best "guesstimates" are that at least 1.5 million tons of debris are afloat on and under the current-driven waters that touch Alaska's coastlines.

The state plans to pay Airborne Technologies Inc. of Virginia $200,000 for surveys of waters and beaches from Cold Bay to Ketchikan.

"That should give a good picture of where the debris is concentrated and some idea of the makeup and quantities of it," said Merrick Burden, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance. "That allows us to have the next conversation about what is it we are really talking about -- is it a $1 million or a $40 million problem? Then we can start putting together a plan of attack. Right now we don't have that level of information."

The MCA Foundation took the lead on debris tracking and radiation monitoring in January when debris began appearing a year earlier than expected. The group deployed experienced cleanup contractors over several months to multiple beaches at Sitka, Craig, Yakutat and Kodiak, where debris was expected first.

The amount of Styrofoam the contractors found in the early-arriving debris is very worrisome, Burden said. Styrofoam breaks up into tiny particles that look like food and can be deadly when it accumulates in fish and birds.

Much of what is coming ashore now are lightweight, wind-driven objects, but there are unknowns riding below the surface.

"What we do know is that it will be a different type of debris," Burden said. "The next level will be more submerged and we don't know what it will be although it is likely to be docks and things of that nature like we have seen on the West Coast. The third category should be almost entirely underwater and driven by currents. That will be something else entirely.

Meanwhile, questions remain over who will pay for further debris monitoring and cleanup.

"When it comes to the state and federal response, we see a bit of a road block," Burden said. "There is an information gap that needs to be filled. Right now we have a lot of questions about the scope of the debris problem. With the aerial survey we can acquire enough information and data to put together a plan and that should get things moving."

The MCA Foundation plans to begin a "hot spot" cleanup in Alaska by mid-September. Mariners can report debris sightings and see pictures of cleanup efforts at

Find the marine debris report at

Salmon skin cream

A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that keep skin softer and younger looking.

"Aquapreneurs" in Norway became curious several years ago after someone noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Researchers at Norway's University of Science and Technology discovered the skin softening came from the enzyme zonase, found in the hatching fluid of salmon eggs. The enzyme's function is to digest the protein structure of the tough egg shells without harming the tiny fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the benefits for human skin.

Now, Norway-based Aqua Bio Technology, which develops marine-based ingredients for the personal care industry, has launched a zonase-infused product called Aquabeautine XL, and has signed up a major distributor in South Korea. The product also is available in Europe. Another personal care product using salmon hatching fluid is set to be launched at the end of the year, according to

Salmon jam

Check out three days of fish and music at Salmonstock, Aug. 3-5 in Ninilchik. For more information, visit

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact