A picture of the barge during loading the Kodiak marine debris. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
A barge landed in Kodiak this week in its first stop to pick up marine debris at sites along Alaska and British Columbia shorelines. It sailed early Thursday morning with almost 100 tons of debris picked up from beaches in the Kodiak Island Borough. The Japanese government is largely funding the project through donations in an effort to help remove debris washed up from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
And while it’s a huge endeavor, according to one organizer, it’s just the beginning.
We catch up with Island Trails Network’s Director of Education, Outreach, and Marine Programs at the organization’s marine debris storage yard.
The majority of bags are on the boat, but excavators are still lifting the remainders onto trucks.
Tom Pogson says the barge workers had some issues that day, but nothing they couldn’t deal with.
“We got up early this morning and came out and everybody was in place and the barge tied up on time,” says Pogson. “And the tide was possibly a bigger factor at a very low level than we thought it was going to be, but they already had a plan and they just threw a bunch of gravel up on the barge and that created sorta of a positive track for trucks to roll off and on the barge and it’s been going steady ever since.”
We spoke with another organizer, Chris Pallister, the next day at the barge kick-off event to find out how the launch went.
Pallister is the president of Gulf of Alaska Keeper, a nonprofit that’s been involved in tsunami debris cleanup for a few years and has been integral in the marine debris removal project.
He says the operation has already reached an obstacle.
“The barge left a little after 4 a.m. this morning on its way to Afognak. Unfortunately, there’s a big storm out there right now and the barge has to go to Blue Fox Bay to pick up debris that’s stashed there, and the barge will get there okay, but we can’t get our helicopters and our crew down there, because there’s 65 knot winds up north of there, so our crew’s kinda holed up in Port Chatham right now.”
And while that may be run-of-the-mill with a project like this one, or any sea-based venture, they have other concerns too.
“This thing is funded just right down to the dime,” says Pallister. “There’s no extra money here, and we’re already having weather delays and other things that are happening that are raising the cost of this thing. So, it’s fairly stressful. So, I’m staying awake at night, I’ll put it that way.”
Pallister says the marine debris will just keep on coming.
“This is the beginning because this needs to be done on a probably every three year basis. Everybody needs to clean up stuff, keep doing this, and then every few years we take a massive load out of here. I really think is the beginning. This is a prototype process and if it all works well, I hope to see it repeated.”
He says he thinks the project will fall short of funds and says he’ll fundraise to try to make up the difference.