THE INTRODUCTON - For the past two years my partner, Ken Campbell, and I have been helping track marine debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami event. We call it The Ikkatsu Project. Ikkatsu roughly translates as ‘in this together.’ We felt this was appropriate, as this event truly brings both cultures on either side of the Pacific together. Last year, we traveled down the Washington Coast by kayak, which allowed us access to beaches unavailable by any other means. In addition to looking for specific tsunami debris, we conducted marine surveys for NOAA (you can see our report here). We also released an award-winning documentary entitled Ikkatsu: The Roadless Coast, which you can watch in its entirety here.
For this year, we chose an even more arduous task: take our kayaks and research methods to a remote island in Alaska. Augustine Island, located at the entrance to Cook Island, hosts the most active volcano in Alaska. With the exception of a few geologist from the Alaska Volcano Observatory, it receives almost no visitors. In order to maximize our contribution to science, I contacted the staff at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and asked if they had any projects that would benefit from our location and ability. They put me in touch with Abby Barrow, Coastal Monitoring and Outreach Coordinator for the Marine Environmental Research Institute. One Skype conversation and a few emails later, we were set to collect water samples for Abby as part of her micro-plastic program.
During the transit up the passage, Alaska was experiencing record-breaking high temperatures and on many of our shore excursions, we melted in the unusual weather. Had I only known what was in store for us, I would have done much less complaining and a bit more sun worshipping.
Compounding this was our isolation. The entire time we were on the island - ten days in total - we never saw another craft. We had a VHF radio and even a EPRIB, but there wasn’t anyone in the vicinity to respond. There were also large sections - sometimes miles - without any landing at all. High, rocky cliffs came straight down to the water’s edge. We could see debris scattered on the ledges or rock piles, but there wasn't a safe method to survey them. Fortunately, once we made the open water crossing from Augustine Island to the mainland - a seven-mile crossing that on windy days I’d sit on the hill watching, the massive waves and whitecaps roaring northward - every mile traveled north took us into more moderate weather. By the time we reached our ‘take-out,’ Snug Harbor Cannery on Chisik Island, we were back in sunny, calm weather.
Overall, it was a mentally and physically tough experience, but I can’t begin to describe the satisfaction I felt knowing that my efforts were making a difference in helping solve some of our planet's issues. By taking the time to collect the water samples and the survey data, the sense of reward I felt was tenfold what I would have felt if I had been there just for the experience. Having participated with a program facilitated by Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, I can’t imagine not using my particular skills to help; anything else would seem selfish and hollow.
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