AD Main Menu

Tsunami debris starting to wash ashore in Southwest Alaska

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Volunteers at Yakutat clean up debris from the Japanese tsunami in 2012.
Photo courtesy of the Yakutat Salmon Board and Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation
Trash from the 2011 Japan earthquake in tsunami litters the Beach River area of Montague Island in late August 2012.
Chris Pallister, Gulf Keepers of Alaska
Trash from the 2011 Japan earthquake in tsunami litters the Beach River area of Montague Island in late August 2012.
Chris Pallister, Gulf Keepers of Alaska
Trash from the 2011 Japan earthquake in tsunami litters the Beach River area of Montague Island in late August 2012.
Chris Pallister, Gulf Keepers of Alaska
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Japanese debris washed up on Kodiak Island's Narrow Cape, photographed on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Marine debris works its way into the nooks and crannies on the south end of Hinchinbrook Island in Prince William Sound.
Photo courtesy Airborne Technologies

Debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan is apparently starting to appear on Unalaska's beaches.

While the pieces tend to be small and unremarkable after a trans-Pacific journey, the sheer quantity makes it “highly probable” that they were generated by the giant waves that walloped the Japanese coast, said David Gaudet of the Marine Conservation Alliance, which is tracking the debris.

Occasionally a very distinctive object with Japanese markings, like a soccer ball, washes ashore in Alaska, but those are the exceptions, Gaudet said. In Unalaska, local resident Charlie Medlicott reported finding a bottle of Japanese carpet shampoo near the gun range by the airport, along with other likely objects.

The stuff isn’t necessarily of tsunami origin, perhaps it fell off a merchant vessel. But the quantity he’s seeing points to the tsunami.

While the city of Unalaska faces the Bering Sea, trails lead to the Pacific side of the island, a roundtrip day hike from town. Right now, though, snow’s still making trail access difficult, he said.

“I think the first people to get out to Ugadaga Bay are going to find all kinds of stuff,” Medlicott said.

Caleb Peterson, with the Coast Guard in Unalaska, found a glass net float wrapped in twine along Summer Bay Road, another candidate.

Unalaska beachcombing enthusiast Nick Butryn found a plastic gas container with Asian lettering, another definite maybe. Or not? “You can’t really date it. It could have been floating in the ocean for five years,” he said.

Butryn routinely observes rich deposits of plastic on local beaches, much of it generated by the commercial fishing industry. He takes home some of the flotsam and jetsam and attaches it to a small pallet, a work of art in progress.

He’s still searching for one classic Alaskan beach treasure: I’m looking for that elusive glass ball,” Butryn said.

This story first appeared in The Dutch Harbor Fisherman.