Story last updated at 1:08 p.m. Thursday, September 19, 2002

Coastwalk to focus on bay's sea ducks
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Homer News file photo
The 2002 Kachemak Bay Coastwalk, which kicks off Friday with a volunteer gathering at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, will send participants out to area beaches to do a little fall cleaning and help survey what is happening ecologically along the Kachemak Bay coastline. The center is hoping people will pay a little extra attention to the bay's sea duck populations.  
When the annual two-week coastal habitat survey and shoreline cleanup effort known as the Kachemak Bay Coastwalk begins on Friday, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies hopes participants will keep a special eye out for sea ducks.

"There are 15 species of sea ducks in North America and all of them have been seen in Kachemak Bay," said Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies Executive Director Marilyn Sigman, though she added that certain species have been seen only on rare occasions.

Highlighted by a pair of presentations and workshops, the push to raise the public's awareness of sea ducks follows the Coastwalk tradition of empowering people to tune into the coastal ecology of the Kachemak Bay region.

The Coastwalk, now in its 18th year, was first organized as a spring event in 1983 by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, then called the China Poot Bay Society. That first effort was launched with the help of local elementary and junior high school students.

"It was started as a way of monitoring and observing what was going on on our coastline," Sigman said.

In the years since, Coastwalk has shifted to a fall schedule, which puts it on the opposite side of the calendar as the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, another event that gets the public into observing the bay's coastal environment.

The event also incorporates the International Coastal Cleanup, a worldwide effort to clean up beaches and coastlines organized by The Ocean Conservancy and set for Saturday.

During the 2001 International Coastal Cleanup, 234 Alaska volunteers hauled 4,770 pounds of trash off more than 70 miles of coastline.

Kachemak Bay acounted for a healthy portion of that total, as 193 people took to the bay's shores during last year's Coastwalk.

This year's volunteers may sign up to monitor a stretch of beach by calling CACS at 235-6667 or by going to the CACS building (708 Smokey Bay Way) off of Lake Street for the volunteer gathering and dessert potluck on Friday, starting at 7 p.m.

During the gathering, Tom Rothe, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game waterfowl biologist, will present a talk entitled "Sea Ducks of Kachemak Bay and Beyond."

Volunteers will get a checklist to inventory various forms of wildlife, human debris and other activity. Last year, participants covered 55 miles of Kachemak Bay shoreline on foot and an additional 92 miles by kayak.

To help Coastwalk volunteers to identify the waterfowl they may see on the bay, the center will hold a sea duck ecology workshop on Saturday from 1-4 p.m. at the CACS building.

"We're just trying to raise awareness of the birds that are here in Kachemak Bay, and also to raise awareness that they are dependant on the mussel beds and other intertidal food sources that are found here," Sigman said. "Sea ducks are a real good ecological indicator because they do eat mollusks and crustaceans."

Sigman said sea ducks have given biologists a good read on how quickly Southcentral Alaska coastal areas have recovered in the years following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, after the center was employed to perform an intensive habitat survey of Kachemak Bay.

Because sea ducks accumulate the toxins that build up in filter-feeding shellfish, some of the species prominent on the Kenai Peninsula coast, including the harlequin duck, are still listed as recovering from the effects of the spill.

Also of concern among the waterfowl populations found in Kachemak Bay are the Steller's eider, currently listed as threatened, the white-winged scoter and the long-tailed duck.

The workshop, to be taught by U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Leslie Slater, will include a class session at the CACS building followed by a field session on the Homer Spit.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homernews.com

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