Ocean Conservancy welcomes Japan’s contribution of support and assistance to the tsunami debris response effort – and just as governments are working together on the issue, so have nonprofit organizations. For more than 20 years, Ocean Conservancy has worked closely with our partners, the Japanese Environmental Action Network, tackling preventable ocean trash. Now, they are on the forefront for response efforts following the tsunami. The magnitude of debris that will wash onto U.S. West coast beaches remains uncertain; therefore, the best action we can take at the moment is ensuring we are adequately prepared to handle any and all predicted debris.
The coast of southeast Alaska is renowned for its stunning beauty, and the pocket beach outside the town of Sitka was no exception: dark sand piled with tangles of storm-tossed logs and fringed with emerald grass. From a distance, the beach looked pristine.
But as our boat pulled closer, we began to see what we had come for: trash. Chunks of polystyrene foam, plastic bottles, lengths of line, bits of faded blue tarp and pieces of netting were wedged in the piles of driftwood and strewn in the beach grass. It was time to get to work.
I was in Sitka to take part in a series of beach cleanups that brought together staff from Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and the Sitka Sound Science Center, along with volunteers from Allen Marine and Holland America Line. Together, we set out to find and remove marine debris that had washed up on the shores of nearby islands.
Workers clean off the dock that washed ashore in Oregon. Credit: NOAA
Recently, contractors hauled away the final piece of a concrete dock weighing more than 165 tons that washed up on an Oregon beach after a 14-month journey across the Pacific Ocean. The dock was one of four that broke loose from the Japanese fishing port of Misawa during last year’s tsunami. One dock was found in Japan, a second turned up in Oregon in early June, and two are still missing.
The largest tsunami-borne object to travel across the Pacific and wash up on the West Coast so far, the dock generated immediate interest from the public. More than 1,000 people a day visited the site to pose for photos and be part of history. An enterprising artist even painted a breaking wave along one of the dock’s massive seven-foot-high sides.
Essentially a floating island, the dock carried a complete ecosystem of Japanese coastal species, transported more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Scientists identified nearly 100 different species of sea life on the dock, including a number of species—like the brown kelp Undaria, the Asian shore crab and the North Pacific sea star—that are known to pose especially high ecological risks when introduced to new territories. Continue reading »
A 66-foot dock that washed up in Oregon was identified and confirmed as tsunami-related debris. Credit: NOAA
As Interim President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy and a resident of the Pacific Northwest, I watched with concern the news of a large Japanese dock landing in Oregon after being washed away by the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan. In the Tacoma News Tribune, I explain why we should be concerned about the tsunami debris heading our way and what we can do:
While it is still too soon to know exactly how big a problem this debris will be for U.S. shores, the International Pacific Research Center estimates that 5 percent or less of the approximately 1.5 million tons of debris in the Pacific Ocean could make landfall.
To prepare for what might come, we should prioritize baseline monitoring, modeling and outreach in communities. Ocean Conservancy has been working closely with the Obama administration, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as they ramp up response efforts.
In addition to monitoring and volunteer cleanups, we also should be advocating for the resources that may be needed to deal with the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude.
But Nick had suddenly become seriously ill and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. “I’m so sorry to let you down,” he wrote, “but I won’t be able to join the expedition.”
His words were immediately heartbreaking and terrifying. It was my first day and first test as Interim President and CEO. I assembled a crisis team of staff, who stayed up around the clock to do everything we could to take care of Nick from thousands of miles away.
The trail leading out past Ma-l'el Dunes to the shoreline monitoring site. Credit: Jennifer Savage
The insect repellent proved crucial as soon as I opened my car door. Mosquitos swarmed – I swear, they’ll bite right through my clothes. The Northern California beach we’d chosen for this project lies on the other side of a sand dune forest complete with marshy rivulets. Beautiful, but buggy!
This excursion was the first in a two-year partnership effort designed to establish baseline levels of marine debris prior to that from Japan’s 2011 tsunami landing on West Coast shores. The shoreline monitoring program is led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provided official protocol and observational guidelines as well as more immediately practical materials including a GPS device, waterproof camera and oh-so-necessary bug spray.
Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos
Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.
This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.