A youth art competition will help determine messaging for signs in Dillingham’s harbor in an effort to keep the water clean.
Alaska Sea Grant fellow Tav Ammu said elementary, middle and high school students in Dillingham can submit a design that shows what a clean harbor means to them.
“Just to remind folks when they’re using the harbor, that people care about pollution and to remind folks not to pollute, and that there are other options and good ways to manage waste while they’re there,” he said.
Along with Alaska Sea Grant, the competition also has support from the Bristol Bay Native Association.
Ammu is organizing the contest as part of his fellowship, which focuses on the Alaska Clean Harbors project. It’s the state’s branch of the Clean Marinas program — a national effort to clean up harbors, marinas and ports and keep them free of pollution.
While the effort is a big deal in the Lower 48, Ammu said, it hasn’t gained much traction in Alaska.
“So we’re trying to bring a little bit more life back into it and see what harbors and areas want more attention, and want to make it more of a priority because we all want clean waters for our salmon and our lifestyles,” Ammu said.
The state’s Division of Water began tracking water quality in Alaska ports and harbors in 2015. In 2020, there was a decrease in ship traffic during the pandemic. The division expanded the project to evaluate how that decline affected water quality.
The division selected sites to represent potential pollution — like small boat harbors, cruise ship ports and commercial shipping docks. It conducted testing at 16 ports from Nome to Ketchikan, and at 20 sites along major shipping lanes throughout southeast Alaska.
According to the tests, the amount of fecal coliform bacteria exceeded water quality standards in some Southcentral and Southeast ports, often around small boat harbors. There is no direct link between increased fecal bacteria and harbors, Ammu said. But raising awareness of pollution is a first step toward cleaner water.
“It starts with harbors, and there’s a huge amount of folks in harbors. And so if bad practices are being done there, it can get worse and worse and worse and get beyond manageable and really impact local ecosystems — and people.”
The state hasn’t monitored harbors in Bristol Bay yet. Ammu will continue to survey fishermen and residents on how they would rate the harbor’s cleanliness until Jan. 15.
The deadline for students to submit art for the signs is Jan. 31. The winner’s design will be featured on signs around the harbor, and they will receive a $50 gift card.