A Blimp? Over Juneau?

A Greenpeace airship promoting the group’s Bering Sea Canyons protection initiative sails over Juneau’s Gastineau Channel Saturday evening. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.
A Greenpeace airship promoting the group’s Bering Sea Canyons protection initiative sails over Juneau’s Gastineau Channel Saturday evening. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.

Most who saw it called it a blimp, but technically, it was an airship.

The environmental group Greenpeace inflated the floating billboard at a Douglas Island ballfield Saturday evening, then flew over Gastineau Channel to downtown Juneau and back.

(Click here to watch of video of it flying.)

Greenpeace is in the capital city for a North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting. The Washington, D.C., -based group is arguing for protection of deep canyons in the Bering Sea.

Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar says sponges, corals and other deep-sea life are threatened by industrial fishing.

He says Greenpeace has studied the canyon ecosystem and is presenting its results to the council.

“It’s an incredibly important area ecologically as well as economically. If fact, they call it the green belt, it’s so productive. So unfortunately, there are no protections along this entire greenbelt, even though it’s so important,” he says.

“And what we want to see is … representative portions of habitat protected, set aside as an insurance policy to make sure we don’t make any really costly mistakes.”

He says Greenpeace received Federal Aviation Administration permission to fly over Gastineau Channel, where cruise ships sail and float planes fly.

Activist Georgia Hirsty says it’s powered by a small gasoline engine.

“The airship is a thermal airship, so it’s actually full of hot air. So a lot of people immediately associate the shape with a blimp. But it’s not a blimp and it’s filled with air. So it functions very similarly to a hot air balloon,” she says.

She says the German-made, nylon-skinned airship is one of four in the United States.

The ship deflates down to a size that can fit in a trailer.

Hirsty says the Juneau stop was the only one planned for this Alaska trip.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.