KODIAK - Sports memorabilia is popular around the world, but most people don't go to the beach to find it.
During the past week, dozens of flyswatters bearing logos of collegiate and professional sports teams have washed up on Kodiak beaches, and beachcombers have set out to collect them.
Kodiak resident Todd Anderson even created a page on Google Maps to track when and where the fly swatters are found, and the team logos. More than 70 people have reported fly swatter sightings.
Other sports-related items like Nerf basketballs and aluminum water bottles are also being found on Kodiak's beaches.
"We found three flyswatters on Kalsin and four more yesterday at Middle Bay," Kodiak resident Jessica Horn said. "We found three Nerf balls, too."
Stacy Studebaker and husband Mike Sirofchuck found seven flyswatters on Pasagshak Beach on Sunday, in both football helmet shapes and square shapes.
"The first one was neat, and then we found the second and third," Studebaker said. "We realized they were all different."
The flyswatters, originally believed to be debris from last year's Japanese earthquake and tsunami, are actually from a shipping container that went overboard almost four months ago.
On Jan. 30, Team Sports America, a company that specializes in licensed sports products, received word that the container ship carrying its products from China lost several shipping containers after a rogue wave hit the vessel in a storm.
"This is a first," TSA executive vice president Michael Sockel said. "We've never had anything happen like this."
A cable on the ship broke, and a whole row of containers got loose in the Pacific Ocean. The coordinates of the spill were not immediately available, so it is unknown exactly how far the debris has traveled.
"We were informed by our overseas logistics people that we lost a container and it sank at sea," Sockel said. "A whole row of them came loose. We're not the only ones who lost containers."
Kodiakans might soon be finding sports key chains and pens that were in the same container.
It is likely the containers were on the Cosco Yokohama, a container vessel traveling from Asia to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The vessel encountered dangerous weather in the Gulf of Alaska the weekend of Jan. 21, and 29 containers fell overboard.
Container spills are a fairly common cause of debris in the North Pacific.
"It has the marks of a container spill, lots of the same thing washing up," said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. "There are runs from Japan and China up through the Bering Sea that come down through Unimak Pass heading to Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco. That's where major storms strike."
Ebbesmeyer has studied flotsam for years and has tracked various items riding the ocean currents.
It is difficult to differentiate tsunami debris from regular marine debris or spill debris.
"There is a lot of debris, and in general it's hard to trace back to the tsunami," said Keeley Belva with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine debris program. "If there is something identifiable, we can try to figure out how to get it back to the right person."
NOAA has been working with local marine officials and government officials to come up with a strategy to address the 5 million tons of tsunami debris approaching the U.S. coastline.
In Kodiak, the most identifiable tsunami debris items are oyster floats piling up on the shore.
"Oyster floats and polystyrene cylinders are spread throughout the entire region," Island Trails Network executive director Andy Schroeder said. "For 15 years we've been seeing one or two. Dave Hilty, a well-known local pilot, counted over 4,000 oyster floats in a recent flight. This is obviously from an event."
Island Trails Network has a grant specifically to collect tsunami debris, but funds won't cover the cleanup of Kodiak's thousands of miles of coastline.
"We'd like to see emergency funding come to address this problem," Schroeder said.
By NICOLE KLAUSS
Kodiak Daily Mirror