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The Gravina Island Cleanup
By Jerry Cegelske


December 17, 2011

The Gravina Island Cleanup began on July 1, 2006 after the Borough was notified that the grant request for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Grant for Coastal Marine Habitat Restoration had been approved.  The cleanup activities ended on October 31, of this year with a last load of marine debris placed in the dumpster near the Harbormaster’s office.

In the five years since the cleanup started I have had the privilege of working with about 80 community residents and some visitors to our community who were dedicated to helping remove marine debris and trash from the Gravina and Pennock Island shorelines.  Their work during Ketchikan’s typical wet weather was greatly appreciated.  During the early cleanup efforts, a picnic lunch was provided to volunteers which was donated by local businesses.

The volunteers were able to remove 62 tons of marine debris consisting of everything you could find in the city landfill, and a few things that aren’t found there.  Of the 62 tons (or 124,000 pounds) about two tons consisted of lead acid batteries that were removed from the boats and found on shore.  Hopefully people will now realize that the batteries can be recycled.   Also recycled were scrap steel from a steel barge abandoned on the Gravina shoreline along with outboards and other aluminum collected from Gravina.  Tons of rusted wire rope was also removed from the shoreline.

Volunteers were responsible for the removal of 30 small boats (up to a 36’ troller), some which were in pieces.  One former boat was just wooden boards scattered over the beach with a diesel stove and engine in the middle of a scattered debris field.

A local business was contracted for the removal of the larger boats.  Last December, four boats and the remains of a fifth were removed from the area across from the Harbormaster’s office plus a 50’ foot wooden barge.  The second effort resulted in the removal of a wooden seiner and a 45’ pleasure boat from the flats on the west end of the airport reserve, and a 55’ boat along the Pennock shore (west channel).  Their third removal was of an 80’ wooden hull, a 40’steel barge, and a heavy 30’ Fiberglass boat.  The total weight of the material removed by the contractor was 140 tons.

During the debris removal efforts, a new Borough code was passed making it illegal for people to dump their boats on Borough public lands on Gravina. (Boats can be disposed of for free at the landfill during the spring cleanup.)

Large quantities of Styrofoam were collected during all phases of the cleanup.  Styrofoam is a poor material for use for floatation unless it is protected by an additional covering.  It absorbs water, it provides a home for marine worms that destroy it, and when it is deposited among the logs and is exposed to mechanical action, it breaks down to very small pieces, covering the beaches as if it had snowed.

A disturbing find were several syringes found near the airport.  There were also some cans of material which probably had been “huffed” or breathed in for a short high.

Another disturbing observation is the photo degradation of plastics when they are exposed to the sunlight.   Sheets of plastic broke into small pieces when they were picked up.  A milk jug was picked up only to shatter into small pieces after being exposed to the sun, other pieces of plastic responded in the same manner.  The plastic will continue to break down to smaller and smaller pieces but will not go away until it becomes a plastic soup in the water when it is trapped in a small area not subjected to flushing.

Gravina Island has some beautiful beaches and areas to enjoy which is only a short  boat ride away.  It will be much more enjoyable to visit them now that the litter and marine debris has been removed from the shoreline.

In all, over 202 tons of boats, wire rope, Styrofoam, tires, plastic bottles, paper cups, and other marine debris has been removed from Gravina and Pennock Islands.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, Borough Manager  Dan Bockhorst, Assistant Manager Cynna Gubatayao and their staff for their support in acquiring the grant and the administrative work with the grant. 

The cleanup could not have been done without the assistance of the dedicated volunteers who helped in the good weather and the bad.

Another “Thank you” goes to the City of Ketchikan, especially to Lenny Neeley and his crew at the Solid Waste Facility who worked so diligently in helping transport the dumpsters we used to remove the debris.  The Harbormaster Steve Corporon and his crew assisted by providing a boat slip and a place to put the dumpsters, and helped inflate flat tires on the “muck truck”.

Also appreciated was the assistance and donations given to the Cleanup by the Ketchikan business community that supported the efforts of the Ketchikan citizens who did the work.

Jerry Cegelske
KGB Code Enforcement Officer
Ketchikan, AK

Received December 08, 2011 - Published December 17, 2011

jpg The Gravina Island Cleanup

One of five vessels removed by the contractor in December 2010.


The 50 foot wooden barge removed by the contractor in December 2010.

A 65 foot boat also removed by the contractor in December 2010.

A steel barge cut up and removed by volunteers.


Two boats that were on the airport reserve off the west end of the runway- removed by the contractor in the summer of 2011


A boat filled and surrounded by collected marine debris


What was formerly a boat located behind Clump Island.  This was one of the first areas cleaned by volunteers.

A City of Ketchikan dumpster loaded with collected marine debris and the remains of a cut up boat.

A volunteer cutting up a concrete sailboat after the battery and other material had been removed.


Volunteers having a picnic lunch. 

Another dumpster load of Gravina marine debris


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