A massive cleanup effort has been underway in Alaska over the past few weeks, as crews work to remove debris build-up from the 2011 tsunami in Japan that has accumulated along Alaska’s coast.

Debris along the Gulf of Alaska. NOAA photo.Debris has been floating across the Pacific and landing on West Coast and Alaska beaches for years, piling up on rocky coastline, which make removing it difficult.

Removal has proved to be too big of a project for Alaska to handle on its own, so with Japan agreeing to pay $5 million to help, crews have airlifted debris from shores and beaches that will be taken by barge to be sorted, recycled and destroyed at a waste management facility in Washington.

Teams from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Gulf of Alaska Keeper, a group dedicated to removing marine debris from Alaska’s coast, have been hard at work.

The location of a lot of the debris — on remote shores and generally hard-to-reach places — prevented the use of heavy machinery. Crews took small boats to shore and piled them full of debris, searching narrow beaches backed by cliffs and into nearby forests. Once they landed, most traveling was done on foot and almost everything had to be removed by hand.

The sheer amount of debris that settled along the coast was a serious environmental problem. According to reports from members of Gulf of Alaska Keeper, the teams have managed to clean more than 1,500 miles of shoreline and rehabilitated a large amount of Alaskan habitat. Although a lot of these areas are remote and rarely used, there was always a potential for the debris to harm ocean habitats.

Read more in the Around the Coasts section of our September issue.

Have you listened to this article via the audio player above?

If so, send us your feedback around what we can do to improve this feature or further develop it. If not, check it out and let us know what you think via email or on social media.

Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

Join the Conversation