Round Island program gets a boost from private, federal funds

Apr 10, 2015

Annenberg Foundation, zoos, aquariums, and others will help keep unique spot staffed and open despite state funding cuts.

Round Island and the Walrus Islands sanctuary protect North America’s largest continually used terrestrial haulout for Pacific walruses.
Credit Lauri Jemison

KDLG:  The Department of Fish and Game says it has found a solution to keep of Alaska's most unique locations staffed and open to visitors this summer.

Round Island, the "widely photographed centerpiece" of Alaska's Walrus Islands State Game sanctuary, had its program funding cut from the state budget last year. Operations typically include a camp staffed by department personnel who monitor Round Island's iconic marine mammal wildlife and oversee the few visitors who make the trip. Staffing was expected to disappear by the end of this fiscal year. The cost to the state to keep the program running is around $105,000.

However, the Department has been seeking private partners to keep the program alive, and announced Thursday that the funding had come through. Donations were received from the Annenberg Foundation, Alaska SeaLife Center, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium of Tacoma, Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Milwaukee-based Oceans of Fun, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, and the Pacific Walrus Conservation Fund. Funding also comes from an existing federal grant from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program to study Steller sea lions.

Other marine mammal wildlife frequent the Walrus Island Sanctuary near Togiak, too.
Credit Lauri Jemison, Fish and Game

“We are grateful that these private entities stepped forward to help manage and protect a unique species like walruses,” wrote Joe Meehan, statewide program coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, in Thursday's release. “Their generous contributions will see us through this season and perhaps the 2016 season. However, given Alaska’s budget situation, the future of the program depends on finding continued outside funding sources.”

Round Island access permits for camping or day visits are now available through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for those seeking a unique wildlife viewing experience. The island is open to visitors from May 1 through August 15.

Credit Lauri Jemison, Fish and Game