McMurdo Station embraces ‘skua’ culture of recycling and reusing materials
One of the quirky aspects of life at McMurdo Station External U.S. government site – the largest research base in the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) External U.S. government site, with a summer-time population of about 850 people – is Skua.
Skua is a concept. It is a noun and a verb. In prosaic terms, it is Goodwill meets the free box. Poetically, some describe it as a karmic recycling of goods.
“Skua is a big part of the culture,” says Kate Austin, a communications operator at MacOps, the communications center for USAP field operations, during a visit to Skua Central, a 300-square-foot shack on the edge of McMurdo where unwanted clothing, electronics and other sundry items go to await new owners.
“What I like about Skua is the whole attitude in the program of making do,” she says. …
Skuas are a group of seabirds, with the brown skua and south polar skua calling the Antarctic home. Related to gulls, skuas are opportunistic predators and scavengers. A few of the large birds are never far from McMurdo, ever on the lookout for an easy meal, requiring station personnel to lock down food waste bins and to remain vigilant when walking outdoors with a plate of cookies in hand.
The birds have lent their name to Skua Central, the repository where Austin is reorganizing jeans, boots, wool hats, blenders and even food stuff and cosmetics.
The word has also entered the local vocabulary. If you “skua” something, you either found an item or released it into the stream of free goods. Some people go “skuaing” – searching out a specific item or just going on a general hunt through the skua treasure trove.
Skua Central is at the end of the flow of discarded items – the reservoir into which various streams from the dorms and tri-wall containers around McMurdo eventually empty. The station’s Waste Department handles skua items along with the dozen or more different categories of waste.
About 65 percent of all trash from McMurdo and South Pole stations is eventually recycled.