State facilities at walrus-covered Round Island in southwest Alaska will be back in business this summer thanks to help from environmental and wildlife organizations from around the country.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday announced that the Annenberg Foundation, the Alaska SeaLife Center, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium of Tacoma, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the Milwaukee-based Oceans of Fun, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and the Pacific Walrus Conservation Fund have chipped in to help fund operations at the Alaska Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary.
Their donations are being combined with a federal grant from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program to provide the funding for research and other activities canceled in the face of state budget cuts driven by declining oil revenues. The federal grant provides money for the study of Stellar sea lions that share the sanctuary with the photogenic walruses.
A state press release quoted Charles Annenberg Weingarten, vice president of the Annenberg Foundation and founder of explore.org, saying the organizations were "honored to help the selfless works of the people at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that are dedicating their lives to benefit us all.''
"The Alaska SeaLife Center values the scientific, conservation and educational opportunities at Round Island," Tara Riemer, president and chief executive officer of the center in Seward, added in the release. "We are excited to bring together funding partners from the zoo and aquarium community who are passionate about walrus conservation to help sustain this unique program."
Round Island has long been home to a camp staffed through the summer by Fish and Game personnel who protect and monitor walruses and other wildlife in the area while overseeing a visitor program and campground. That costs about $105,000.
"We are grateful that these private entities stepped forward to help manage and protect a unique species like walrus," Joe Meehan, statewide program coordinator for Fish and Game, said in the release. "Their generous contributions will see us through this season and perhaps the 2016 season. However, given Alaska's budget situation, the future of the program depends on finding continued Outside funding sources."
The walrus sanctuary was created shortly after Alaska statehood in 1960. It celebrates its 55th anniversary on April 13. The sanctuary was established to protect North America's largest continually used terrestrial haulout for Pacific walruses, protect nesting habitat for upwards of 1 million seabirds, guard a sea lion haulout and help preserve other wildlife.
Round Island access permits for camping or day visits are now available from Fish and Game. The island opens to visitors May 1.