Marine debris barge to skip Southeast

A Coast Guard helicopter lifts one of several bags of marine debris collected in 2014 on Biorka Island, near Sitka. (Photo courtesy Sitka Sound Science Center)
A Coast Guard helicopter lifts one of several bags of marine debris collected in 2014 on Biorka Island, near Sitka. (Photo courtesy Sitka Sound Science Center)

The large barge picking up marine debris from the Gulf of Alaska coast is skipping Southeast.

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A month-long helicopter-and-barge operation will remove stored trash, much from 2011’s Japanese tsunami.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Tsunami Marine Debris Coordinator Janna Stewart says communities in the region are sticking with existing shipping and landfill agreements.

Margot O’Connell of the Sitka Sound Science Center says the barge is great. But it’s just too expensive.

She says Sitka already takes such debris to its transfer station, where it’s loaded into containers that are shipped to Pacific Northwest landfills.

“So for us, that’s been a lot more cost-effective. And it’s also a relationship we want to maintain. So it doesn’t really make sense for us to participate in the barge-disposal effort, since we already have this great set-up going on here,” she says.

Recyclable glass and plastic is removed before the beach trash is shipped off.

O’Connell says Southeast shoreline clean-ups find a wide variety of trash, from fishing line to large appliances to plastic water bottles.

She says it’s difficult to determine where it all came from. But some was clearly washed out to sea by the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

“A lot of the big aquaculture floats, we didn’t really see those in the same numbers and now there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. A lot of foam and things like that are likely from Japanese buildings. We find quite a few kerosene jugs that were used for home heating and things like that that are pretty definitely tsunami debris,” she says.

O’Connell says Port Alexander, on southern Baranof Island, also brings marine debris to Sitka’s transfer station. Craig, on southern Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island, uses the local landfill.

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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.