DVIDS – News – Coast Guard finalizes 2021 Arctic and Western Alaska Task Force initiative


2021 marked a milestone for the Alaska Coast Guard Marine Safety Working Group initiative. MSTF teams operated with new partners, visited more communities, and strengthened relationships in the Arctic and Western Alaska, through unprecedented planning, action and support.

The ongoing MSTF initiative, first implemented in 2019, manages the seasonal deployment of Coast Guard teams to remote areas of the state to conduct vessel and facility inspections, train operators, improve knowledge of the maritime domain and carry out awareness-raising activities for preparedness and security programs.

Through MSTF operations, the Coast Guard observed firsthand the impacts of climate change on the landscape of the Arctic and western parts of Alaska. As permafrost thaws, the ground beneath many aging fuel installations becomes unstable. This could prevent people from heating their homes and schools, or powering their traditional hunting and fishing transport. Potential fuel oil spills caused by aging infrastructure in rapidly changing landscapes threaten local ecosystems that support communities. In addition, an increase in maritime traffic in the Arctic increases the potential for search and rescue or pollution incidents.

In 2021, MSTF teams visited 95 remote communities, performed 128 fuel storage facility inspections, 470 commercial fishing vessel reviews, five gold dredge reviews, and monitored six onshore fuel transfers.

“I had a very special opportunity to be part of an MSTF team that deployed to the island community of Little Diomede in October,” said Captain Leanne Lusk, Anchorage Sector Commander. “Little Diomede is the closest location to Russia in the United States. The island has 98 inhabitants, half of whom are children. We have learned that they only receive one delivery of fuel each year. We were there to inspect their fuel tanks to make sure they could survive the coming winter without a fuel or oil spill, and to talk about pollution control efforts in the Bering Strait in the event Residents we met described this increasingly popular area as their ‘grocery store’ and explained the tragic impacts that a major pollution incident would have on their village and residents. “

Lusk and other members of MSTF met with the city council during their visit. The team learned that the residents of Little Diomede feed on king blue crab, walrus, seal and an occasional polar bear, all harvested during the winter months, when the ice is safe enough to roam around. of the island. However, over the past seven years, the multi-year ice they relied on for fishing and hunting for generations has shrunk dramatically.

“Crabbing on the winter ice isn’t so good anymore,” said Opik Ahkinga, environmental coordinator and vice mayor of Little Diomede. “We are no longer able to access places where crabs are abundant. Yet pretty much everything we do now is done on foot, on winter ice. We are now working with the Coast Guard on their return to the island to provide us with ice rescue training. “

The Coast Guard MSTF team observed during their visit some of the huge currents in the Bering Strait. These currents make shore fishing on Little Diomede nearly impossible during the summer, and have resulted in children and adults being swept away when playing in the water or accidentally crossing the ice in the winter.

“Climate change is everywhere, not just on our island,” Ahkinga said. “We are concerned that the hunt for our traditional Inupiaq foods may be lost. For three years now, we have not seen meat traps full of oogruk (seal) and walrus. We are also concerned about the increase in shipping near our island and the potential for grounding and possible oil spills. We have mitigation plans, but we need to educate everyone here on how to respond to an incident. “

The main objective of the MSTF initiative is to promote public safety and protect the marine environment. An oil spill in a remote part of Alaska could potentially devastate marine life and nearby maritime communities. Pollution in Alaska could impact the country’s largest commercial salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. In addition, remote pollution incidents require much higher levels of resources for cleanup. A 3000 gallon heavy fuel oil spill on Shuyak Island in 2019, just northeast of Kodiak Island, cost $ 9 million to clean up, the highest per gallon spill in history the United States. During the winter of 2020-2021, there were a total of five spills in remote Alaskan communities, including one during a barge transfer over water that cost a community more than $ 60. $ 000 in lost fuel alone.

The Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation coordinated a response to a heating oil spill from the Northwest Arctic Borough School District in Kivalina that occurred December 16, 2021. An Anchorage Area Coast Guard MSTF responder traveled to Kivalina to assess and oversee the cleanup of the approximately 1,900 gallon landfill.

When mariners and fuel facility operators comply with federal law and actively practice both prevention and emergency response, communities become safer places to live. Coast Guard MSTF teams worked throughout 2021 with remote communities in Alaska to achieve compliance and provide education.

“When we say that MSTF improves our knowledge of the maritime domain, we are talking about putting our boots on the ground in as many places as possible within our area of ​​responsibility,” Lusk said. “We mean talk to the people we serve, to learn more about the unique challenges they face in their communities and in their waters. We mean seeing with our own eyes some of the dangers to the public from climate change, in the vibrant landscapes and waterways around their homes. During MSTF deployments, we gain a visual and in-person understanding of the logistical and physical barriers that could slow us down during a search and rescue or oil spill response. We strive to strengthen our relationships with locals and with our partner agencies to overcome these obstacles. We share what we learn in remote communities with our partner agencies, including the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

In 2021, for the first time in MSTF history, crews from the Alaska Army National Guard Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 641st Aviation Regiment transported Coast Guard members from Joint Base Elmendorf -Richardson to central communities including King Salmon and Nome. From these hub communities, as in years past, Civil Air Patrol Alaska Wing pilots transported MSTF members to remote communities, whose runways only accommodate smaller aircraft. This year, CAP sent members of the Coast Guard MSTF team on 119 flights.

Coast Guard MSTF teams arriving in these communities relied, as always, on the support of locals for ground transportation to complete each mission. Facility managers, operators and fishers work actively with the Coast Guard to comply with federal laws that help keep people and the environment safe.

The direct result of these efforts has been a 395% increase in physically inspected facilities and an almost 2,000% increase in vessel reviews since the launch of MSTF in 2019. MSTF operations directly mitigate the risks of pollution and pollution. vessel safety and promote a better understanding of the unique challenges encountered. in each community.

“Coastal erosion, changes in the home ranges of key species, increased commercial traffic and thawing permafrost all have significant impacts on coastal communities and Coast Guard operations in various sets of missions,” said Cmdr. Jereme Altendorf, Arctic Emergency Management Specialist at Sector Anchorage. “The Coast Guard has leveraged local partnerships to create a unique and effective program. The MSTF initiative identifies risks and provides comprehensive compliance assistance directly to the owner and operators of the facility. This helps mitigate the rapid effects of climate change in the Arctic. We are redoubling our efforts indirectly by working with our partner federal and state agencies to provide facility condition updates and other facility compliance data. This helps them make decisions about infrastructure upgrade grants and other compliance assistance funding, as well as tuition-free operator training courses. Through direct and indirect compliance assistance to the regulated community in the Arctic and Western Alaska regions, the Coast Guard effectively builds adaptive capacity within local communities. Through the MSTF initiative, the Coast Guard has positioned itself not only to accomplish its statutory missions, but also to simultaneously share the story of the effects of climate change with those who may be in a position to act.

The MSTF initiative is a year-round operation, which includes summer fieldwork, fall planning, and winter deficiency checks. Planning for the 2022 MSTF peak summer season is already underway.

Date taken: 12/30/2021
Date posted: 01.01.2022 02:45
Story ID: 412133
Site: AK, United States

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