Responding to Risks of Marine Debris: Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris


So, we often walk down in that area, so we had just wandered by after work, and there was already a news crew from Portland there. Something large had come to shore on agate beach. It was pretty amazing right Its 66 feet long 19 feet wide, 7 feet high and its covered with layer and layers of of sub-tidal organisms. So there were just hundreds and hundreds of individuals and turning out to be more than a hundred species that we saw. So it was just really fascinating and at that point, you know, it’s just all starting to click. Like, could this really have made it 15 months later? It was amazing. I mean it was actually pretty fun cause it was kinda like a free trip to a sub-tidal pool in Japan. So of the ones we’ve been able to get to the species level, um, there’s about a dozen that are known to have been invasive somewhere. Cause we have species we know that already occur on both sides of the Pacific, or amphipacific, and sometimes its hard to tell…did they get here naturally, “quote, unquote,” or were they mediated by human delivery? Um, and then you have species that are currently only known on the eastern or western Pacific. Um, so we’ve characterized species–trying to put them in those categories: they’re already on both sides of the Pacific, they’re only known from our coast, the northeastern Pacific, or they’re from the northwestern Pacific. And so far, um, roughly, when you look at the animals or the plants about 40%, give or take, appear to be more western Pacific species– species not yet described or known on our side. And then the whole idea is that they might be non-native species arriving, but none of them may become invasive, in the sense where they’d have to establish, become naturalized, and then actually have a negative impact on the economy or the ecology or human health. And so, it still might…there still might not be any invasive species here as a result of the event, but species that are on the debris have become invasive in other areas. What you’re seeing here is day two of the biomass removal of these non-indigenous species that have been attached to this floating dock, that has drifted across the Pacific in the aftermath of that unfortunate event in Sendai, Japan. So, what we have here, uh, is the secondary effort to remove the bumpers, and these non-indigenous barnacles and mussels, and seaweed, crabs and worms that are stuck up inside the bumpers. We made an effort to physically ream them out and knock them out and also to burn them from the bottom. But now what you’re seeing is the effort to physically remove the bumpers themselves, and physically remove the species. What will happen is we’ll take them off and move them up above high tide, and bury them about 8-10 feet below the high tide mark, so they’ll be smothered, and dying. So all of these staff biologists, state agency biologists are working to rapidly respond to the threat of non-indigenous species, physically remove the living organisms from the floating dock, and, uh, dispose of them properly. Up on top of the floating dock are the State Parks and Port of Newport employees, and they’re looking at salvage opportunities, and ultimate disposal and removal of the floating dock from the beach. What…what we have is the potential for many thousands of objects now floating and arriving in North America. Some set of that will be marine debris that actually started out in a marine environment, and much of that debris may land in places that we will never see. And so some of these adult organisms may in fact have an opportunity to establish before we can even see the debris, before we can even potentially eradicate them. You know, there are certain waves…it’s very clear that different types of debris come in different waves. And we’ve characterized some of the waves, probably, better than others due to all sorts of things. And we could always have better coverage, um, and it’s great to have as much citizen support as we can, and as many eyes on the beach that know, “Hey, that’s unusual.” Um, so you can’t have too much of that, but given the situation I think its pretty impressive what we’ve managed to get. So, as the Oregon State coordinator for the international coastal clean-up, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to connect with the other state coordinators on the west coast who have been working on the issue of marine and tsunami debris, and also connect with folks working in Japan. They’ve been organizing delegations to come over to the US, and work with US researchers, NGO’s, and agencies to see how we can address this global issue of marine debris. That’s really what we’ve been focusing on. So the delegation has come over to Oregon twice now, and in February we conducted, uh, marine debris monitoring research. Professor Fujieta was leading the research on the types of marine debris that we were looking at. He started looking more general to see just what is on our coast, and comparing that to what’s on the Japanese coast as well. So, the delegation chose a specific area of the beach and collected all of the debris, and brought it back and they, very thoroughly, went through and separated everything out and then wrote down how much of each item they found on that particular beach. -Speaking in Japanese- So one of the really amazing things that has happened because of the tsunami debris is we’ve started working together and getting more organized on marine debris, here in Oregon, and it’s the same for many of the other west coast states as well. So ultimately, it’s making it, um…we’re having a lot better communication when it comes to marine debris. Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, NOAA developed a set of standard protocols for assessing the types and quantities of debris at a shoreline site. And, to implement these protocols, and actually collect the data, we’re working with a number of different partner organizations and their volunteers that are returning to shoreline sites on a regular basis. Um, so we’re just gonna walk out to the site, um, walk over to our permanent plat that we use GPS to find. Then we use little orange marking flags to mark out, um, the plot and the transects that we’re gonna monitor. And then, we basically just walk up and down the transect, um, recording debris, type of debris. We pick spots that we thought would be good locations to document. Um, and we’re slowly figuring out, you know, how deposition and, um, time and storm and all of these things kind of, impact the amount of debris that shows up on the shore. Five million tons of debris, apparently, from the tsunami was washed out to sea, but 70% of that sank in local waters. And, we’re lookin’ for that 30% that’s still floating out there somewhere in the Pacific. I love being on the beach, and um, you know…it’s a great reason to walk on the beach and you feel you’re doing some good at the same time. I always say, “Oh, this is…I’m going out to my beach today.” Well, it’s a national beach its not mine, but, I feel that, uh, I feel that kind of ownership and stewardship of it. The Japanese tsunami debris is a really interesting issue. It was a lot of debris that was brought in to the water by a natural disaster, so it added to the problem of everyday debris that we face all the time. I think there’s really a lot of good reasons to care about marine debris. It impacts so many different areas, so if you love to go to the beach, you don’t want your beach covered in trash. If you care about marine animals, you really don’t want them being, you know, entangled. There’s a huge economic issue associated with marine debris. It costs money to clean up beaches, to clean up land. Um, I think there’s also just the fact of, our oceans are so important, and so critical to our health and the health of the environment, we don’t want to pollute them. We don’t want to use them as our, as our trash bins. There’s a lot of reasons that everyone really should care about marine debris. There’s so many issues out there that are so hard to solve. This is really a man made problem, for the most part, and so it really can have a solution.

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