In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 4:53 PM on Wednesday, September 12, 2012


In our own backyard

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo provided

Patrick Chandler untangles a net during a CoastWalk beach clean up last year.

If you're walking down Lake Street tonight about 5 p.m. and hear drumming and rattling from the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies on Smokey Bay Way, do not be alarmed. It's not some weird Homer tribal rite, but a group of volunteers kicking off the 29th annual CoastWalk.

On the theme this year of "Make Some Noise About Marine Debris," participants will be doing exactly that. In a workshop from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., they'll be making drums, shakers and rattles using marine debris found during the last year from Gore Point, Montague Island and Kachemak Bay beaches.

I should say "we." Knowing my love for making things out of marine debris and playing African marimba music, CACS special projects coordinator Patrick Chandler has drafted ... er, persuaded me to help with the workshop. Using water bottles, buoys, fly swatters and whatever can be found in the ever growing pile of marine debris, we'll make instruments and then play them using various African rhythms.


CoastWalk 2012

Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies

KICK OFF today:

CACS Headquarters, Smokey Bay Way off Lake Street

4:30-5:30 p.m. percussion workshop

5:30-6 p.m. Finger food potluck

6-7 p.m. CoastWalk kick off and talk

Communityclean ups:

Sept. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., clean up of McDonald Spit. Water taxi transportation donated by Red Mountain Marine. Bring lunch; sign up in advance.

Oct. 6, 1-3 p.m., Mud Bay. Meet at the Homer Spit parking lot trail head on Kachemak Drive.

Oct. 7, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., cleanup of McKeon Spit. Water taxi transportation donated by Mako's Water Taxi. Bring lunch; sign up in advance.


With facilitator Angela Haseltine-Pozzi

Sept. 20, 6-8 p.m., Clover Lane workshop

Sept. 22, 1-5 p.m., Clover Lane workshop for teachers who want to bring marine debris art into classrooms; sign up.

Information: or 235-6667

Started in 1984, CoastWalk volunteers have been walking beaches on all sides of the bay. Coordinated with the International Coastal Cleanup, one worldwide day of cleaning beaches, CoastWalk volunteers work throughout September and October. The kick off today is for participants to sign up to clean up and monitor area beaches. They'll fill out data sheets recording the amounts and kinds of trash found.

CoastWalk isn't just about marine debris though. Volunteers also fill out forms noting marine life, shoreline activities, wildlife seen, marine vegetation that washes up on shore and even information like tire tracks on beaches. The result is citizen scientist information that tracks changes since 1984.

Tonight at the kick off, Chandler also speaks about marine debris from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami that already has started to show up in the bay, such as red kerosene fuel cans, big black buoys, white plastic foam buoys and thousands of pieces of shredded blue, brown and white plastic foam.

"The idea is to put out there that because of our extensive baseline data, we have an opportunity to record an event in history by keeping track of what we are finding this year and noting any odd exceptions of what we're seeing on the beaches," he said. "I'm very curious to see how our own data changes this year."

The past 28 CoastWalks have some differences in the kinds of trash collected.

"We've seen definite changes in the amount of recreational debris," Chandler said.

For example, last year beach walkers noted lots of Styrofoam — but not from the tsunami.

"Last year it was due to that early September storm that busted up a bunch of docks that had Styrofoam billets," Chandler said.

Because of Homer's fishing industry, debris related to that use also is common, like lures, buoys, nets, rope, fishing line and even rods and reels.

"We're a maritime culture here," Chandler said. "We get more debris related to recreational and commercial maritime activities."

One item common to Homer and Lower 49 cleanups is also the number 1 culprit worldwide: cigarette butts and items related to tobacco use. In 2011, 862 observers walking 75 miles of beaches found 2,007 cigarettes or filters — almost a tenth of the 25,000 pieces of debris collected.

One volunteers aren't seeing is plastic bags, at least compared to other American urban areas. Chandler said he thinks everyday beach walkers are aware of bags and pick them up.

Plastic itself, though, is a problem, he said.

"The only way that's going to change is a change in human habits and human choices to use more sustainable materials," Chandler said.

The good news is that CoastWalk has led to beach users becoming more aware of marine debris. Workshops done yearly at area schools have paid off, Chandler said.

"I'm really excited to see as I go back to schools, CoastWalk has become part of the culture of that school," he said. "They look forward to getting out to the beaches — they know a lot of the answers to the questions I'm asking."

Another success is the disappearance of six-pack rings. Those used to be common but have practically vanished.

"We really don't see them," Chandler said. "I think that's one of those things it was a long sustained effort. They were killing wildlife. They've been taken out of circulation."

This year also will see another difference. As part of its Washed Ashore art project, CACS will collect every bit of debris and use it in big art projects under the direction of Oregon artist Angela Haseltine-Pozzi, who does a workshop Sept. 20.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at