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Japanese tsunami debris washing ashore in U.S.

In March 2011, an earthquake that rocked Japan triggered a massive tsunami, wiping out entire towns. Debris began washing ashore in Hawaii, Canada and along the Washington, Oregon and California coasts in 2012.

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Japan’s ‘toxic’ monster creeping toward Washington coast

OLYMPIA — An enormous debris field is creeping toward the U.S. in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan in 2011, killing nearly 16,000 people and launching 1.5 million tons of floating objects into the sea.

That most concentrated part of the junk field is easily broader than Texas and centered approximately 1,700 miles off the Pacific coast, between California and Hawaii, although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hasn’t published more precise estimates. The agency estimates that the trash overall is scattered across an area in the ocean about three times the size of the continental United States.

tsunamiboat1The debris ranges from pulverized particles to entire docks that washed over from Japan, to intact boats, motorcycles, soccer balls, traditional Japanese flooring, and even some Japanese sea creatures never seen on the U.S. West Coast. “High windage” items reached the Pacific Northwest as early as winter 2011. Smaller debris is “sailing” here on the tides — NOAA estimates that the widely scattered detritus may show up intermittently along shorelines for a long period of time, over the next year or more.

In addition to physical junk, a wave of slightly radioactive water released from the broken Japanese Fukushima nuclear reactor is predicted to reach shore in 2014 — but scientists point out that it is so diluted that it is harmless.

In one of the more dramatic photos of debris, two rooftops and an upside-down boat can be seen floating in the ocean. In another, a giant dock from Japan washed ashore in Oregon.

Even more interesting may be what’s living on the dock.

“At first we were only thinking about objects like the floating docks, but now we’re finding that all kinds of Japanese organisms are growing on the debris,” John Chapman of the Marine Science Center at Oregon State University told

“We’ve found over 165 non-native species so far,” he added. “One type of insect, and almost all the others are marine organisms … we found the European blue mussel, which was introduced to Asia long ago, and then it grew on a lot of these things that are coming across the Pacific … we’d never seen it here, and we don’t particularly want it here,” he said, arguing that it could be “invasive” and displace current marine life.

Many other creatures have been found, too.

“In the debris we found the Northeastern sea star … as well as a type of brown algae that’s used to make miso soup. We’d never seen it here before.”

Chapman added that the migrant creatures took scientists completely by surprise.

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SEASIDE, Ore. (CNN) — More than two years after the Japan earthquake and tsunami, researchers made a startling discovery in a 20-foot Japanese fishing vessel that washed ashore last month near Long Beach, Wash.: five tropical fish, alive and well.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it is the first time that vertebrae have been found ashore with debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.


One of the knifejaw or striped beak fish native to Japan that was found in tsunami wreckage on the Washington Coast March 22. (Photo: Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Five of the fish, commonly called a knifejaw or striped beakfish, were found on board the wreckage  of the boat that washed ashore in Washington March 22.

The fish are native to warmer waters near Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula.

The five stowaways, roughly the size of your palm, lived in a cozy spot at the back of the boat.

A 20- to 30-gallon containment hold in the boat’s stern lost its cover, and that part of the boat was submerged as the vessel drifted in the ocean, said Allen Pleus, a scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That “created like a cave they could go in and out of,” Pleus said.

Pleus said most debris out in the ocean attracts fish, so it’s not surprising these fish found a home in the debris. But it is surprising they survived the nearly 5,000-mile journey.

“It’s very rare that you’d see something like this,” Pleus said. “Obviously, fish are very robust and we are learning this on all of the species that come across.”

When researchers first explored the boat, they saw just one of the fish in the holding tank. They collected it in a bucket and took it to Long Beach City Hall.

Someone at City Hall called the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, Ore., to come and get it. Fish and Wildlife personnel found three more in the tank’s murky water. Finally the boat was towed to a state yard, where the fifth fish came swimming up to Pleus.

The one that went to the aquarium will live out its life there. General Manager Keith Chandler says it’ll go on display Saturday.

“He is a pretty cool fish, and I just wonder if there are more out there,” he said.

The other four had the honor of contributing to research at Oregon State University, where researchers will dissect them, learn their ages and what they’ve been eating.

Sea anemones, scallops, crabs, worms and sea cucumbers that hitched a ride on the same boat also will be studied.

The surviving beakfish has been dubbed the “Tsunami Fish” and will be on display starting Saturday at the Seaside Aquarium.


Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

FORKS, Wash. — The Japanese government has confirmed that the dock that made landfall in December along the Washington coast near Forks is debris from Japan’s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Washington state Department of Ecology said Thursday.

“The dock has been positively identified as coming from Aomori Prefecture (Japan), based on a fender production serial number discernible in one of the photographs sent by Washington state and federal responders,” the department said.

The dock is slated for removal this month, state officials said.

The dock was found on a remote beach in the Olympic National Park on Dec. 21. Since the discovery, scientists have tested the dock for invasive species. No highly invasive species have been detected out of the nearly 30 different types of different species found on the dock.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and Olympic National Park officials agreed Jan. 7 to remove the derelict dock as an important way to ensure the resource protections goals of both the Sanctuary and the Park.

Officials discussed different ways to remove the dock, including hiring an independent contractor to take it apart.


Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

FORKS, Wash. — Many of the same organisms found on a Japanese tsunami dock in Oregon have been discovered on the dock that recently washed ashore on the Washington coast, but no highly invasive species have been detected, a state Wildlife and Fish official said Thursday.

Allen Pleus, the Washington state Department of  Fish and Wildlife’s aquatic invasive species coordinator, said the evidence shows that Japanese coastal organisms continue to survive on marine debris, even after 20 months at sea.

Pleus said most of the species on the Washington dock were present on a similar dock that came ashore on Agate Beach, Ore., in June, but none of the highly invasive species found on the Oregon structure were present on the Washington dock.

Nearly 30 species have been identified so far, he said. More detailed analysis is ongoing and may require several months, Pleus said.

Responders also took samples to test for radioactivity. Washington State Department of Health experts said it’s unlikely that radioactive contamination will be detected.

The dock, suspected to have been set adrift by the March 2011 Japanese tsunami, remains beached on a remote and rugged section of the Olympic National Park coastline, state officials said.

State responders are developing a plan for dealing with the dock. No plan can be enacted until January, however, due to tides and daylight access, said a Washington State Marine Debris Task Force news release.

Meanwhile, as a precaution, a tracking buoy has been attached to the dock. The buoy transmits its location twice daily via satellite. The location coordinates have not changed, indicating the dock has not moved since visited by a response team last week, the task force said.

A ground crew representing federal and state agencies reached the dock on Friday, Dec. 21. It has been discovered earlier by a Coast Guard helicopter crew.


Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

FORKS — A tsunami debris team on Friday safely reached and inspected a beached dock in Olympic National Park that is suspected to have been set adrift by the March 2011 Japanese tsunami.

“The team was able to thoroughly inspect five surfaces of the dock and took live samples of potentially invasive species for laboratory analysis. More about the species sampled and whether they pose a risk to the sensitive ecosystem should be known over the weekend,” said the Washington State Marine Debris Task Force.

The team was led by National Park Service staff, including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State University.

“They also looked for – but did not find – an identifying plaque like the one found on the Misawa dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach (Ore.). However, the team located some Japanese writing in one of the holds, and photos are being shared with the Japanese Consulate to officially confirm this dock as tsunami debris,” the task force’s news release said.

“A tracking beacon is now attached to the dock to track its position. Photos taken today will be used to help develop a plan to remove the dock from the beach. No timeframe has been set for removal, however.

“Crews also took samples to test for any radioactivity, which is considered highly unlikely by state Department of Health experts,” the release said.

Pending further information about the risks associated with the dock, the section of the park between Goodman Creek and Jefferson Cove is closed to all public entry.

The dock is aground on a remote stretch of beach between LaPush and the mouth of the Hoh River, which must be accessed by foot via primitive trails across rough terrain

The dock was spotted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter Tuesday.

The dock appears to be similar to a Japanese dock that washed ashore in June in Oregon. That dock was cut up and removed.

IMG954143.jpg.jpgOLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Coast Guard crews located a large, ocean-drifting dock on a rugged section of coast in the Olympic National Park between LaPush and the mouth of the Hoh River Tuesday.

The dock is believed to be a piece of debris from the devastating March 2011 tsunami in Japan. Federal state and tribal agencies plan to evaluate the large dock for any potential invasive aquatic species that may have hitchhiked while it was drifting in the ocean.

Crews were alerted about the dock after fisherman aboard the fishing vessel Lady Nancy spotted the dock adrift in the ocean Friday. The dock was located after a series of flights by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Pending further investigation of the risks associated with the dock, the National Park Service has closed the wilderness beach between Hoh Head and Toleak Point to all public entry. Agents are concerned about the safety of people encountering a large, heavy floatable object in the ocean surf, officials said. Governor Chris Gregoire said she wanted to thank the Coast Guard for finding the dock.

“The Coast Guard was out in challenging conditions looking for a needle in a haystack, and they found it,” Gregoire said in a statement.



debrisWASHINGTON — Japan announced Friday it is giving a gift of $5 million to the United States, through NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, to support efforts in response to marine debris washing ashore in Hawaii and the West Coast from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said  the funds will be used to support marine debris response efforts, such as removal of debris, disposal fees, cleanup supplies, detection and monitoring.

NOAA said it  anticipates distributing funds to affected regions as the funds are received from Japan and will work to determine immediate needs and plan for future applications.

Since the disaster, NOAA has been leading efforts with federal, state and local partners to coordinate a response, collect data, assess the debris and reduce possible impacts to natural resources and coastal communities.

“We are extremely grateful to Japan for its generous support to the American people,” said Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of NOAA. “We appreciate this partnership and collaboration with Japan as we work to keep our ocean and coasts healthy.”

Debris from the disaster has drifted across the Pacific and reached shorelines in the U.S. and Canada. In July, NOAA provided $50,000 each to Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California to support response efforts.

Items from the tsunami that have drifted to U.S. shores include sports balls, a floating dock, buoys and vessels. Mariners and the public can help report debris by emailing with information on significant sightings.

tsunamibeachBy Kate Burgess, Q13 FOX News reporter 

EDMONDS, Wash. — Marine experts are predicting tons of tsunami debris will be washing on our shores come fall.

Some has already made it here. But, according to predictions, the worst is yet to come.

The federal government earmarked $600,000 and the state put aside another $600,000 to collect the debris that washes ashore on the coast and on the Sound beaches.

Curt Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer who`s been keeping track of the debris movement, is estimating that about 500,000 tons will wash up on the beaches of the Pacific Northwest starting around October.

The state is asking volunteers to clean up most of the smaller items that wash ashore. But Ebbemeyer said it`s not all trash, and many of the items could provide closure for grieving Japanese families.

“If you see a sneaker on the beach, don`t walk by – stop, poke it and see if there’s something in it (but) don’t go any further,” he said, adding that people should then call authorities “because that might be the only remains that a Japanese family has for Last Rites,” Ebbesmeyer said.

The state is giving out gloves and garbage bags — and setting up Dumpsters along the coastline for people who do want to help with the cleanup.

tsunamiboat1WASHINGTON — The state of Washington will receive $50,000 in federal funds for use toward tsunami debris removal efforts, it was announced Monday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement that a total of $250,000 in grants will be issued to five states affected by debris arriving from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami. Each state will receive $50,000.

In addition to Washington, the other states are Alaska, California, Hawaii and Oregon.

NOAA said the funds could be released as soon as the end of this month.

“We continue to actively work with the states and other federal agencies to address the challenges associated with tsunami debris,” said Nancy Wallace, director of NOAA’s marine debris program. “We are pleased to be able to contribute funds to support states’ efforts to respond to and remove marine debris.”

NOAA said Japan estimated that the tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean and that about 70 percent sank shortly after. The remaining 1.5 million tons dispersed far across the northern Pacific Ocean in an area roughly three times the size of the lower 48 states.

NOAA said modeling indicates that the bulk of the debris is scattered and may continue to disperse north of the main Hawaiian islands and east of Midway Atoll. A portion of the debris has already begun to reach U.S. and Canadian shores, and more is expected to continue over the next several years.