Nelson Lagoon, Bering Sea

Nelson Lagoon, Bering Sea

by | Nov 10, 2023

Nelson Lagoon is a community situated on the Bering Sea coast of the Alaska Peninsula, on a narrow barrier sand spit forming the embayment of Nelson Lagoon, about 258 miles (415 km) northeast of Dutch Harbor and 24 miles (39 km) west of Port Moller, Alaska. Archaeological evidence suggests that Unangan Aleut people have inhabited the Alaska Peninsula since the last ice age. Nelson Lagoon was historically used as a summer fish camp by Aleut residents of a village at Bear River. The lagoon was named in 1882 for Edward W. Nelson an explorer of the Bering Sea and Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with the U.S. Army Signal Corp. Egg Island is a sand shoal in the lagoon that supported a salmon saltery and cannery between 1906 and 1923. The cannery employed local residents and Scandanavian fishermen that were scattered around the lagoon and came together only during commercial fishing seasons. After the 1923 season, the facility was moved to Port Moller and operated by Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc.

In 1965, a school was established at Nelson Lagoon, and the modern town site grew with families moving from nearby Port Moller, Herendeen Bay, Bear River, and Ilnik. Commercial fishing is the primary occupation, and dozens of resident and transient boats operate between Nelson Lagoon and Port Heiden for the sockeye salmon fishery delivering to Peter Pan Seafoods in Port Moller. Nelson Lagoon has only drift gillnet and set gillnet permits because of the environmental conditions of the fisheries. There is no harbor and boats anchor in a tidal channel in the lagoon during the fishing season. In the off season, the fishermen pull the nets and vessels out of the water and store them next to their houses. Village residents are also avid trappers and bird and caribou hunters, and many maintain cabins around the lagoon and along the Bering Sea coast. Nelson Lagoon imports food and supplies by barge that delivers to Port Moller twice yearly. Water for domestic use is derived from a lake about 10 miles (16 km) from Nelson Lagoon and is treated and all homes are connected to the piped water system. Individual septic systems enable households to have complete plumbing. The school closed in 2012 when the enrollment dropped below 10 students.

The community of Nelson Lagoon is experiencing erosion of the coastline on the Bering Sea and lagoon side of the spit. The principal factors causing and contributing to the erosion include high tides, storm surges, and wind and wave action. Much of Nelson Lagoon is protected by ice for part of the winter storm season, but during the past 10 to 15 years, ice forms later and the protection from erosion has not been present. A wooden seawall was built in the early 1980s and it was effective for many years, but in several locations, erosion has undermined and removed soil from behind the wall. In 1998, a storm event resulted in the exposure of 3,000 feet (914 m) of the community’s water line, which then froze. The water line is now buried, and the community has planted beach grasses to help protect against further damage. Major erosion events in the community have been constant for the last 20 years, resulting in an erosion rate of 5 feet (1.5 m) per year. To slow the erosion rate, the community installed gabions but these had little success due to high winds and tides. In 2005, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers constructed a geotube containment structure near the city dock consisting of a sediment-filled sleeve of geotextile fabric and this has slowed erosion in that area. Read more here and here. Explore more of Nelson Lagoon and the Bering Sea here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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