St. George takes steps to protect their marine environment

An island in the Pribilof’s is taking steps to protect the marine environment in their backyard. St. George’s city council passed a resolution earlier this month that could establish a National Marine Sanctuary. Eighty people live on the island of St. George and they’re primarily Unangan meaning they rely on the ocean resources for subsistence. Mayor Patrick Pletnikoff says over the past five years the community has noticed a significant decline in the population of fur seals and seabirds. And they need to take action now.

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A fishing boat on St. George Island, 2007 (Photo by Annie Feidt, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage)
A fishing boat on St. George Island, 2007 (Photo by Annie Feidt, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

“I mean there is no need to extract everything in the Bering sea or get it down to the point where animals such as seals and seabirds can’t sustain themselves,” Pletnikoff said. “I mean, when you start seeing these kinds of die-offs you wonder if we may have allowed it to go too far without saying anything about it”.

Pletnikoff says the first step is to raise money and hire experts who will help decipher research done in the area by government agencies like the US Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Then, the city will look at how to protect the resources. Right now, they’re considering applying for federal marine sanctuary status that would offer the area some level of protection.

“It at least makes all stakeholders have a seat at the table,” Pletnikoff said. “Everybody that has any interest in what we’re thinking about doing is welcome to that table to sit down and discuss it with us.”

The transparency of applying for a marine sanctuary appeals to Pletnikoff. Plus, he says it would protect the marine environment without automatically prohibiting fishing or reconstructing the island’s port.

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Zoe Sobel is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk based in Unalaska. As a high schooler in Portland, Maine, Zoë Sobel got her first taste of public radio at NPR’s easternmost station. From there, she moved to Boston where she studied at Wellesley College and worked at WBUR, covering sports for Only A Game and the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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