Prince William SOUNDKEEPER®

Clean Water   Healthy Fisheries   Strong Communities

Marine Debris Clean Up

Egg Island Clean Up Project


In 2009 Prince William Soundkeeper, in partnership with the Prince William Sound Science Center, conducted a marine debris assessment and clean up on Egg Island, a barrier island on the western edge of the Copper River Delta. Building on the 2009 work, a second Egg Island project will be conducted in the summer of 2010. 

The purpose of the project is to remove debris; assess and document debris collected to determine its origin and impacts; conduct a prevention education and outreach program to the commercial fishery fleet; and to raise public awareness regarding marine debris, its impacts and ways to prevent these impacts.

Egg Island provides habitat to 30 shorebird species on outer beaches and 24 shorebird species in the dune system including Sanderlings, Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Western Sandpiper; and the world's largest colony of Glaucous-winged Gulls. Several species of mammals are known to occur on Egg Island. Harbor seals forage on large spawning runs of salmon and eulachon in nearby shallow waters, and haul out on island shores in late winter and early spring. Brown and black bears have been known to walk across the tide flats to graze on beach greens and prey on nesting and molting glaucous–winged gulls along with their eggs and young.

The island is 6.3 km wide and 14.5 long and includes mudflats, sand beaches, estuaries, sand dunes, sedge and shrub communities. It lies within the Copper River commercial fishery comprised of 500 permit holders. At any given time during the fishing season, this barrier island can be surrounded by hundreds of fishing boats. Due to the nature of the fishery, the formation of the barrier islands and the surrounding currents, marine debris and plastics accumulate on the island.

Project Description

PWSK, in consultation with area biologists, determined August to be the optimal time for the Egg Island clean event in order to avoid critical summer nesting time for shorebirds, hawks and gulls. A core team of 13 volunteers was recruited for the event, 9 students volunteers for a survey and 4 additional volunteers for the trash pick up following the clean up itself. Volunteers ranged in age from middle school students to adults and included fishermen, scientists, an environmental attorney, writers, artists, environmental advocates and others. In July, working with our primary community partner, the Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC), PWSK's Citizen Environmental Monitoring Program director worked with a PWSSC high school oceanography class to survey marine debris deposits on Egg Island, mapping debris and calculating densities by walking transects in preparation for the August clean up project. Transects covered the main depositional zone but also included the interior of the island where very few bits of garbage were found. The highest concentration of garbage calculated in a single transect was 299.2 pieces of plastic, 33.9 pieces of glass, and 20.3 pieces of metal per acre. The average density for all transects were 54.7 pieces of plastic, 8.3 pieces of glass, and 4.7 pieces of metal per acre.

On August 7th, the volunteer clean up team met over a potluck dinner for orientation, to view the film Synthetic Seas, and to discuss the impacts of plastics on the marine environment. The following morning, the team took a short flight via local air taxi to the project site on Egg Island where they would stay for 24 hours. Upon arrival they walked the deposition zone documenting each piece of garbage and picking up all plastics but leaving glass and metals. That evening the team camped on the island and discussed the day's events and findings over a campfire. Beginning the following day trash was removed in two phases, the first via the flights used for volunteer travel. The remaining trash was staged for a second pick-up several weeks later which was led by a team of volunteer commercial fishermen via commercial fishing boat. All garbage collected is being stored for educational and outreach purposes. Useable items were saved, #1 and #2 plastics separated and recycled.

Feedback from volunteers following was very positive and demonstrated the knowledge gained and impact resulting from the experience. For example, volunteer Ellen Americus stated “The clean up impacted me a lot. The next week when I went shopping, the experience made me much more attentive to my shopping choices.” A teenage volunteer went home to his family and told them they were “forbidden to buy any disposable plastic water bottles!”

2009 Egg Island Clean Up Findings

The majority of the trash was weather worn plastics from all over the Pacific Ocean. Tiny bits of plastic dominated and plastic water bottles were the number one find “whole” find. There was some local garbage from the fishing fleet such as lubricant containers and drink bottles. A high percentage of glass and plastic bottles were also of Asian origin. Fishing floats, buoys and lines of both Asian origin and local were in abundance as well.

Prince William Soundkeeper, PO Box 1368, Cordova, Alaska, 99574  tel: 907-424-5701  a 501c(3) non-profit organization.
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