Sukoi Bay, Cape Douglas

Sukoi Bay, Cape Douglas

by | Nov 18, 2021

Sukoi Bay is situated at Cape Douglas on the western shore of Shelikof Strait, in Katmai National Park and Preserve, about 121 miles (195 km) east of King Salmon and 83 miles (134 km) southwest of Homer, Alaska. The name is a transliteration by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from the Russian ‘Zaliv Sukhoi’ or ‘Sukhoy’ meaning ‘Dry Bay’. Cape Douglas is a prominent headland at the entrance to Cook Inlet named by Captain James Cook on May 25, 1778, to honor Dr. John Douglas, Canon of Windsor. The historical Alutiiq name for the cape was Kukuak or Koukhat. The Shelikof Strait coast of the Alaska Peninsula is composed of Mesozoic aged sedimentary rocks intruded by Tertiary and Quaternary volcanic and intrusive rocks. Sandstone, conglomerate, greywacke, siltstone, and shale are the predominant sedimentary rocks on the northern peninsula. These ancient sediments were deposited in a fore-arc basin developed during the evolution of the Aleutian Island arc. Cape Douglas is at the base of Mount Douglas, a stratovolcano located near the northeastern part of the Alaska Peninsula. Mount Douglas and other glaciated volcanic peaks form the crest of the rugged Aleutian Range on the Alaska Peninsula separating the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The geomorphology of the coastline is largely the outcome of glacial erosion and rapid Holocene sedimentation related to volcanic activity. Sukoi Bay was created when two offshore islands gradually became connected to the mainland by the accumulation of sediment deposited by an ancient braided river that flowed from glaciers on the eastern flank of Mount Douglas. The resulting embayment also filled with sediment until a series of beach ridges diverted the river to the south. The inner bay is very shallow with depths of less than a few fathoms and can be used only by small vessels with local knowledge. The cape is very exposed and experiences frequent storms especially in the winter with high wind speeds and associated waves from the north, east, and obliquely from the south.

The Pacific shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula was occupied by indigenous populations for at least 7,000 years and likely coincided with the Paleoarctic expansion from Asia. Middle Holocene village sites on the Katmai coast contain barbed harpoons and remains of sea otter, harbor seal, sea lion, porpoise, and a wide variety of fish and sea birds, all indicative of a fully-developed maritime culture. Abundant food resources led to increased population size and medium to large coastal villages developed with semi-subterranean houses and thick shell middens. The archeological record suggests strong east-west interactions with other Gulf of Alaska populations from the Aleutian Islands to Prince William Sound, as well as intermittent connections northward to Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea. Passes through the mountains from Katmai Bay, Hallo Bay, Swikshak, and especially Kamishak Bay into the upper Naknek drainage were important routes for trade and travel. Russian fur traders arrived in the late 18th century and noted several Alutiiq villages on the Katmai coast including Katmai (Qayihwik) and Kukak (Qukaq). The pattern of settlement along the coast may have been distorted by Russian colonial control and its singular focus on maritime fur production that required seasonal hunting camps. Although no historic records of Alutiiq residence at Cape Douglas have been located, it is likely to have been a summer camping place for sea otter hunters. During the winter months of October through March, coastal residents generally undertook relatively few subsistence activities and concentrated in large and long-established villages, such as Katmai and Kukak, where they consumed a diet of dried salmon, seal oil, berries, and other stored foods. Almost every family had its own dwelling on the seashore and near streams and changed their locations and dwellings with the seasons. In the spring they stayed near streams with early salmon runs, and in winter in shallow bays and inlets where they could find protected beaches for boat landings, open views for monitoring sea mammals and the approach of enemies, and access to fresh water and food. The different seasons made different locations or different types of dwellings necessary. Impermanent shelters such as skin tents overturned boats, and small plank sheds were used for travel and subsistence camps, while winter or year-round base villages consisted of barabaras that could shelter as many as 15–20 occupants. All settlements on the Katmai coast were abandoned after the massive eruption of the Katmai Novarupta volcano in 1912.

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and spilled 10.8 million gallons (49,097,772 l) of crude oil. As spilled oil drifted southwestward out of Prince William Sound, a series of severe storms in the Gulf of Alaska transformed the oil by evaporation and mixing with seawater into a water-in-oil emulsion called mousse which greatly expanded the oil volume. The oil spill eventually affected about 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, of which 200 miles (320 km) were heavily or moderately oiled. Rafts of this oil mousse were stranded sporadically along the Gulf of Alaska coastline including Cape Douglas on the Katmai coast. In the aftermath of the oil spill, Gulf of Alaska shorelines were surveyed for stranded oil and cleanup was carried out in the most heavily oiled areas. Cleanup efforts ranged from labor-intensive ‘rock wiping’ and shovel removal of oil-contaminated sediments, burning of oil-soaked debris, and the application of bioremediation chemicals. The stranded oil at Cape Douglas was in the upper intertidal zone on a broad bedrock platform with scattered boulders that merges landward with a steep gravel ramp rising about 16 feet (5 m) to a 16-33 feet (5-10 m) wide band of drift logs. The gravel consists of cobbles and pebbles that are highly mobile in large waves, especially at high tides. However, alongshore movement of sediment is restricted by the bedrock headlands forming the entrance to Sukoi Bay. In 1989, the stranded oil was described as thick and widespread. In 1990, the oil impacted area was described as covering an area of 98 x 131 feet (30 x 40 m) and an estimated 844 cubic feet of oil was removed and bioremediation chemicals were applied. In 1992, surface oiling was still present and consisted of scattered patches of oil mousse, tar-coated cobbles, and partially buried subsurface mousse to depths greater than 2 inches (5 cm). In 1994, the remaining oil was near the mean high tide level and consisted mainly of soft asphalt-filled interstitial spaces under a cobble and boulder armor. Read more here and here. Explore more of Sukoi Bay and Cape Douglas here:

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