Tag Archives: Tsunami

Fish as Tsunami Debris

Have you forgotten all about the tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011?  Then you don’t live on the coast of Oregon or Washington!  Amazing things continue to show up on the beaches.

(Courtesy of Allen Pleus, WDFW)

(Courtesy of Allen Pleus, WDFW)

(Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

(Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

At the end of March 2013, an 18-foot (5.5 meter) skiff washed ashore.  Nothing unusual aboutthat, lots of boats have landed on the beaches of the west coast. This particular boat however, contained the equivalent of a 30 gallon fish tank (a bait box) with a  flourishing ecosystem.  The box contained seaweed, a sea cucumber, algae, sea worms, barnacles, blue mussels, crabs, scallops, and most amazing of all 5 Beakfish. 

This is the first time a vertebrate has been found it the debris, and they sent scientists scurrying to once again revise their estimates of what might wash ashore. Immediately after the tsunami scientists speculated that no species could survive the trip across the ocean.  When the two large docks landed, one each in Oregon and Washington, it was obvious that many could and did survive.  However scientist thought that only thinks that were at least partially submerged before the tsunami would have life attached to them.  The debris that has washed in shows that larva found in the water will attach to anything.                                                                

More debris than ever seems to be washing up.  Since early February at least one boat per week has been found. Most of the species that have been attached to things have been benign. However some have the potential to disrupt our coastal environment.  Ship worms if they became established would  harm wooden docks and possibly even the coastal forest.  Wakame, an aggressively invasive of seaweed, has turned up on several occasions, and the beautiful purple and cream

(Courtesy en.wikipedia.org)

(Courtesy en.wikipedia.org)

North Pacific Sea Star has also been found.  The North Pacific Sea Star is on the 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species list. The diet of this star includes nearly anything it finds.  It is especially problematic to mariculture (farming of ocean life) such as the oyster beds in Oregon and Washington.

Personal and culturally important items are included in the debris as well.  Balls of various types, some of which have actually been returned to their owners, bicycles, household items, toiletries, and other everyday items appear in the debris.  One item that was returned to its owner was a buoy that was part of a restaurant sign.  The restaurant and its owner’s home were both destroyed.  She was delighted to have the buoy and hopes to give it a prominent place in her new restaurant when it is built.
(Courtesy Oregon State Parks and Recreation)

(Courtesy Oregon State Parks and Recreation)

Recently pieces of what appear to be torii, the gate found at the entrance of Shinto Shrines and some Buddhist  temples in Japan, have been found.  The Consular Office of Japan in Portland has been consulted about the disposition of these pieces, since they are part of religious objects.of ocean life) such as the oyster beds in Oregon and Washington.

It remains to be seen how long the various types of debris will continue to drift ashore.  If any invasive species manage to take hold along the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada, we won’t know until sometime in the future.  For now all that can be done is to keep watch and wait.









Filed under Beakfish, Environment, Natural Resources, Tsunami

Japanese Tsunami 18 Months Later

Many people around the world have forgotten about the tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March of 2011.  The people of Japan and the people who live along the coast of North America are not among them.

The people of Japan remain overwhelmed by the enormity of their loss.  Whole villages were washed away.  Nearly 20,000 people are believed to have died during the tsunami.  Hundreds of families lost everything they owned.  Many of them are still living in one room temporary housing provided by the Japanese government.  Electricity is scarce.  Government buildings turned up their thermostats during the sweltering Japanese summer to 85 degrees, and asked business and homes to do the same.  Of the 50 nuclear reactors functioning at the time of what the Japanese refer to as Tohoku Earthquake; only two are still in operation.  The people demanded that they be closed after it turned out that reactor owners and the government had played down the severity of the disaster.  There is speculation that when the last two are shut down for maintenance in the spring of 2013, they may not go back online.

So far, most of what has arrived on Oregon’s shore is debris, unrecognizable.  However to the Japanese who are grieving, each object is precious.  It might have belonged to a lost loved one.  Anything that can be identified is a treasure.  KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Gary Horcher, spoke to some people he met at a shrine for the 74 children lost at an elementary school in Ishinomaki City.  They urged him to tell the American people that the things washing up on the beach are not garbage; they were someone’s personal belonging and should be treated with respect.

The Japanese people feel a responsibility for the debris that is floating toward the Pacific Coast of North America.  The Japanese Government has promised $6 million to the U.S. and Canada to help cover the cost of the cleanup.  In October 2012, a film crew from Japan visited the Oregon Coast and filmed portions of a documentary about how the tsunami debris is affecting the lives of people on the West Coast.  The documentary will discuss how the cleanup is being done, show volunteers cleaning a beach, talk about ship safety in regard to large pieces of debris, and explain the dangers to the environment of the coast from invasive species.  The documentary will be shown on Japanese television in November.  The Japanese people are very concerned that their problem has become the problem of others.

The people on the West Coast of North America hold no animosity toward the Japanese.  Natural disasters are not the responsibility of the country where they occur.  S.O.L.V. (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) is coordinating volunteer efforts to keep the beaches clean of debris.  S.O.L.V. along with Surfrider Foundation and other volunteer groups have worked 21 weekends.  One weekend in September, volunteers from youths to senior citizens and coastal residents and inlanders removed a total of 51,600 pounds of debris.

Most of the debris is barely recognizable, but a few items have reached the beach in pristine condition.  Items such as a football, a volleyball, (the owners were identified by the names on the balls) a Harley Davidson motorcycle (tracked down by its license plate number), and a few other things have arrived in good condition and been returned to their owners.  A fishing vessel, that arrived at an island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, has not been claimed although it appears to be in good condition.

Volunteers are asked to call 211 if they find an item that can be identified or has monetary value.  They are also cautioned to stay away from hazardous items such as oil, gas and chemical containers, and call the same number so authorities can remove them safely.

It will be years before all the debris reaches the shores of western North America.  The Japanese are trying to rebuild their lives.  The Americans and Canadians who live along the coast are working to minimize the damage to the ecosystems along the shore.  We may never forget.










Filed under Environment, Natural Resources, Tsunami, Volunteer