One of the prime springtime activities around Sitka is for people to gather seaweed, either for subsistence/traditional food purposes or to use it to fertilize local gardens. Seaweed is loaded with lots of healthy vitamins and minerals so it’s eaten by many in Sitka, and it also makes great fertilizer for the garden.
But this spring members of the Sitka Local Foods Network board have been hearing concerns from local gardeners and farmers about the seaweed this year possibly being contaminated by radiation (or iodine 131) from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan. Some of these concerns came after several local residents in recent weeks found Japanese fishing buoys and other debris on beaches around Sitka, and they were fueled by other stories about Japanese debris washing up on Alaska beaches.
Many people have had reservations about harvesting seaweed, either to eat or use in their gardens, and some people were skeptical about official reports that said there was no or limited radiation exposure to debris headed toward Alaska. For those people who want to test their seaweed or soil, the Plant Science Library in Anchorage is not equipped to test seaweed. But there are facilities in Washington State that are willing to test for a fee of between $50 to $200.
For those people who want to track the effects of the Fukushima Dai-ichi on U.S. marine environments, you can track the effects on Alaska coastlines at this congressional site. Other reliable websites for current information include http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm247403.htm and http://www.srrb.noaa.gov/.
Greg Wilkinson, a public information officer with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, provided this link to a three-page handout about the effects of radiation on wild foods in Alaska. The State of Alaska has teamed up with the states of Hawai’i, California, Oregon and Washington, the province of British Columbia, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Joint Information Center.
“Hopefully, disseminating this information to you all will alleviate some concerns about seaweed harvesting this year,” Sitka Local Foods Network board member Johanna Willingham said.