The Secrets of Augustine

Secrets of Augustine

We’ve gotten some questions about the 2013 expedition and we figured it might be useful to post them here in case there are others who are wondering about the specifics. If after reading through these, you don’t see the answers you’re looking for, please drop us a line…

Where is Augustine?
Augustine Island is a volcanic island located near the mouth of Cook Inlet, in south-central Alaska. Because it is an active Volcano (one of the most active in Alaska), the mountain is monitored closely by geologists; the beaches, however, are seldom visited.

How big is Augustine?
Our circumnavigation of the island covered about 30 nautical miles. We were dropped off on Augustine, did our beach surveys and microplastic sampling, and then paddled about 90 miles back up the coast to Chisik Island, where the paddling portion of our expedition ended.

Why was Augustine selected as the site for this year’s study?
Because it is situated near the entrance to Cook Inlet, Augustine is in the ideal spot to catch a variety of marine debris coming in from the open sea. Also, as it is near the top of the North Pacific Gyre, we expected to find some items that were driven over after the 2011 Japanese tsunami. (And we did.)photo

How long did the expedition last?
We left Bellingham, WA, on the Alaska ferry on June 22nd and returned by air about a month later. The island portion of the trip took 13 days and the paddle back to Chisik Island (where the kayaking portion of the expedition concluded), took 6 more.

What were the main objectives of the 2013 expedition?
There were a few things that we were trying to do. First and foremost, we wanted to get the story of marine plastics out in front of as many eyes as possible. People only value what they know, what they are familiar with, and through the expedition itself and the film we produced from it, we wanted to get as many people as possible to be familiar with the issue of marine debris and the effects that human activity is having on the seldom-seen places of this planet.

Second, we wanted to add to the data that already exists about marine debris by surveying beaches that were unlikely to be seen by others. We used the NOAA survey techniques that we used on the 2012 trip, and the information we gathered was put into the existing group and from that, future studies and cleanup operations can be coordinated.

Third, we had hoped to be working on establishing field protocol for examining sea birds for plastic ingestion. It was to be a new aspect of marine debris work for us and we were very excited about it. We were, however, unable to find sample birds to examine throughout the course of the trip, whether from scavenging animals or because of the high tides that the area experiences. There will be other chances in the future. Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge has “adopted ” us as a sponsored project and we hope to be working with them to develop a method of evaluating birds in the field to see the effects of plastic debris on these populations.

How was the expedition and the film funded?
We were fortunate to have several outstanding organizations as expedition sponsors. Kokatat, based in Arcata, CA, makes the finest watersports clothing and safety equipment on the planet. We wore dry suits, PFDs and other clothes from Kokatat both on and off the water. Snapdragon Designs was another gear sponsor, providing us with the spray skirts we used on the trip. Rite-in-the-Rain, Rainshadow Coffee and other organizations came forward as well; information and links can be found elsewhere the web site.

In terms of funding, however, we stitched together a variety of sources. We brought in some money at events where we showed our first film, we wrote articles for selected magazines and web sites, and we experimented with crowdsourcing on our Indiegogo campaign.

Why should I care about marine debris?
Good question. There are almost as many answers to this one as there are pieces of plastic on the beach, but here are a few answers: Plastic never really goes away… the bottles and the bags, the netting and the foam, becomes part of the scenery once its out there. It’s ugly and it stands as a measure of how little regard we, as a species, hold for our natural environment.

Even more pressing might be the fact that pollutants in the water are drawn to plastic fragments, which then can be ingested by fish, which are caught in a net and served on your table. The pollutants (PCBs are fairly ubiquitous, for example), are absorbed by the fish and, in turn, by you. That’s a pretty good reason to care about the issue.

It comes down to whether you see yourself as part of your surroundings or whether you think that you exist somehow apart from them. We believe that we are responsible for the messes we create, and part of that responsibility dictates that we do what we can to clean them up.


Media coverage: Tacoma News Tribune