Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tsunami Debris Clean Up on the Oregon Coast

The March 11, 2011 tsunami that devastated portions of Japan made a lasting impact on thousands of people. Loss of life and property were stark reminders of the power of the sea. An estimated 1.5 million tons of debris washed into the sea from that tsunami. Now, some 15 months later, debris from this disaster is starting to wash on the Oregon Coast.

In Oregon, several state agencies are providing residents and visitors to the beach with recommendations about cleaning up this debris, and even how to return some personal items back to the Japanese residents.

The Oregon State Parks and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are gearing up for the clean-up tasks ahead. Besides just trash, one real threat to local wildlife and coastal habitats is from the introduction of aquatic species not native to the U.S. These species may impact coastal environments, fisheries or the shellfish industry.

A big concern regarding  washed up debris is the potential for living organisms to be attached to those items. This would include seaweeds, barnacles, snails, starfish, crustaceans, and plants, as well as other species not native to the area. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife asks visitors to the beach to collect trash items and either dispose of them in garbage cans or, if the object is too large, move it to above the high tide mark. Items too large to be moved, like the 60+ foot section of dock that recently washed up in Newport, should be reported to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department at 1-888-953-7677 or via e-mail. A photograph and description of the organism, as well as its location and date found, will also help to determine if the organism is a species of concern or not.

Oregon officials request that visitors call 911 or the US Coast Guard at 510-437-3701 to report exceptionally large items observed at sea or off the coast, especially those that pose a hazard to navigation.
Bits and pieces of plastic, twine, buoys, or general garbage seem to be a constant source on the coast. Much of this debris is from around the Pacific Ocean and may not be associated with the last tsunami. One idea that I do is to carry a plastic bag and pick up this small debris, then dispose of it in garbage cans. Keep an eye out for small items that may actually be from Japanese residents where the tsunami hit. These items may be treasured keepsakes and be able to be traced back to the owners through the Oregon State Park’s e-mail: beach.debris@state.or.us.

Help keep the Oregon Coast clean!