The Blog Aquatic » tsunami News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fly Swatters, a Whale Skull and Sore Feet Tue, 18 Jun 2013 20:44:56 +0000 Nick Mallos

This is the third update from Ocean Conservancy Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos, writing from the GYRE Expedition in Alaska.  Read his first update here, and his second here

Motivating oneself to work on minimal sleep is not difficult after spending an hour watching humpback and fin whales surface-feed. Graced yet again with sunny skies and calm seas, we deployed Jubatus after fueling up on coffee and assembling our gear. We skimmed across the water’s glassy surface and landed on a small pocket beach at Perevalnie Point on Shuyak Island just after 9 a.m.

Tucked inside a protected cove, the beach’s wrack line was minuscule compared to that at Gore Point, but sizeable when contrasted to most other places. Debris composition however, was fairly indistinguishable—tsunami oyster buoys, fishing nets and buoys and plastic bottles were strewn above and below the fallen timber. The 100 meter expanse of fallen timber was not short on bottle caps either. I collected 51 caps (most adorned with Asian brands) during our 30-minute visit to the beach. Black oystercatchers cautiously watched my every move from the water’s edge as I carefully navigated the unstable wrack line.

We motored out of the cove and through Perevalnie Passage where sea otters hunted in dense kelp beds, and bald eagles soared above, occasionally snagging a fish from just below the water’s service. We emerged from the protected waters of the Passage and cruised into Red Buoy Bay, named for a ten-foot tall red buoy that washed in during a ferocious winter storm and now rests between the beach and the pine forest. Comparatively, Red Buoy was a clean beach. We came across fishing net scraps and buoys intermittently along the beach, and I collected 45 bottle caps from the kilometer-long beach. My most interesting find was a “Marlboro Man” plastic cigarette lighter manufactured in France. Tracking down the approximate manufacturing date will be my first investigative project when I arrive home.

Our final beach landing of the day took place on a small island with high-energy pocket beaches along the eastern edge of Shelikof Strait. The steeply sloped beaches were small in width but had accumulated massive amounts of timber and debris. These beaches were the most unstable I’ve ever been to, as logs teetered under my every step. Oyster buoys, plastic beer crates and fishing buoys were among debris items on the small island, along with 65 plastic bottle caps dispersed amongst the monstrous logs. One of the most interesting items on these beaches was not synthetic though.  It was a massive whale skull likely belonging to a fin or humpback that once foraged the productive waters of Shelikof Strait. Steps away from the skull was a meter-long foam aquaculture float from the tsunami.

Surprisingly, a whale skull was not the most peculiar debris item we encountered during the day. That honor was reserved for plastic fly swatters. Thousands of these items emblazoned with college and professional sports teams’ logos were lost during a Costco Yokohama container spill, and have been appearing on beaches along the entire Alaska coast. Since commencing surveys, our team has picked up fly swatters with Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, UNC Tar Heels, Minnesota Vikings, Iowa Hawkeyes, Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers and the New England Patriots logos.

Immediately upon stepping back onto the Norseman after 10 hours in the field, I quickly trade in my Xtratufs for bare feet to provide some relief to my bruised feet and sore legs. My rubber knee-high boots are fantastic at keeping my feet dry throughout the day but they’re dismal at providing even the slightest bit of comfort while trekking through sand and over logs.

After dinner, work onboard the Norseman abruptly shifts from physical labor to intellectual output, as each of us diligently processes the day’s samples, sends emails and pictures and blogs, recounting the day’s events. As the crew and I burn the midnight oil (not whale-based, thankfully) the sun finally begins to set. It’s approaching 1 a.m. We essentially work 24 hours a day while at-sea but somehow no one seems to mind. My guess is the stunning wildlife, snow-capped mountain ranges and lull of the ocean that wholly encompasses us may have something to do with it.

]]> 2
Cleanup Volunteers Join a Wave of Action to Support Sandy Recovery Mon, 10 Dec 2012 20:52:02 +0000 Nick Mallos

A powerful reminder of what was lost during Sandy; no words necessary. Photo by Nick Mallos

Superstorm Sandy was an unpreventable and unavoidable natural disaster that left in her wake a trail of devastation both physical and emotional that will require not months, but likely years to repair. The total cost of Sandy’s destruction may exceed $50 billion. Beach Cleanups alone certainly will not repair the damage that was done by Sandy; in fact, it’s likely that it will barely scratch the surface. However, each of these small actions taken collectively has major implications for the recovery of New Jersey and New York shores.

So there we were—Ocean Conservancy—at a desolate Jones Beach State Park on Long Island, NY equipped to do what we’ve been doing for over 25 years—clean up the beach. The cleanup was just one of many going on throughout the day along devastated beaches in New York and New Jersey as part of an effort called “Waves of Action,” which aims to help with coastal recovery efforts. Conditions were less than ideal:  cloudy with light drizzle, 45 degrees, and an ocean breeze that had it feeling much colder We were nervous—would our list of attendees brave the weather and make it out? But just as volunteers do each September during the International Coastal Cleanup, on this chilly December morning more than 70 volunteers—most of whom were Long Island residents—put aside their Christmas shopping to lend a hand for a beach and community they love. In fact, many New Yorkers changed their plans that morning as they heard of the event via WCBS 880’s live radio coverage from Jones Beach.

Together, volunteers scoured the sand and dunes for three hours removing a total of 2,000 pounds of debris scattered over 420,000 square meters of beach. Much of the debris found was entangled in dune grasses or deposited along a soundside wrackline created by Sandy’s receding waters. The windswept beach was mostly barren with the exception of a few items synonymous with summertime:  boat docking, a soft pretzel stand’s signage, a Sirius XM radio and thousands of plastic straws and stirrers that stuck out of the sand like sprouting dune grass. At the base of the dunes, thousands of plastic bottle caps and tampon applicators created a disheartening plastic puzzle and in all directions plastic bags snagged on dune grass or shrubs flapped in the wind. The exact source of these items will never be known, but the proximity of New York Harbor and an up-beach sewer outfall suggests much of the debris was compliments of the Big Apple; yet another reminder that the ocean is always downstream.

Sandy was unpreventable. But we can and should learn from storms like Sandy as well as Hurricane Katrina and last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The threat of natural disasters is not new and we must critically examine our daily activities that make us more susceptible to damage inflicted by these events. This ranges from beachfront development to restoring our natural defenses like oyster reefs and dunes to reevaluating our daily consumption of one-time use disposable plastics.

The ocean is incredible. But we continue to take too much out while concurrently putting too much in. Its limits are not infinite and it’s time we give the big blue a little help to make certain the ocean retains its resiliency in the face of a future Katrina, Sandy, or the next vixen who remains TBD.

In addition to the inspiring efforts of the volunteers and Jones Beach Park Service, Ocean Conservancy would like to thank the sponsors of the cleanup, LandShark Lager and Altria, who stepped in on short notice to help provide funding for the event.

]]> 0
Tsunamis are unavoidable; trash choking our ocean is not Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:41:14 +0000 Janis Searles Jones

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.

While natural disasters are inevitable, trash choking our ocean is not. Read the full story here.

]]> 0
Even in the Ocean, Every Rose Has Its Thorn Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:09:33 +0000 Nick Mallos Debris found during cleanup near Yokohama, Japan

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.

So far, Mawar has delayed our departure on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japan Tsunami Debris Expedition by almost one week. To say anticipation and angst on board has been high would be an understatement. However, we have not allowed our time on land to be wasted.

Several of us traveled to a nearby beach that sits adjacent to the Sea Paradise Amusement Park. With roller coasters and a Ferris wheel as backdrop, we surveyed the crescent-shaped beach using NOAA’s Shoreline Monitoring Protocol, incorporating a microplastics sampling component recently designed by 5 Gyres Institute.

Plastic fragments dominated the rag line — the tide line on the beach where seaweed, shells and debris accumulate — and cigarette butts and food wrappers comprise the majority of items found toward the berm. None of the items we found indicated this debris was tsunami-generated.

Nick Mallos on the bow of the Sea Dragon ship

Nick Mallos awaiting Typhoon Mawar on the bow of Pangaea Exploration's Sea Dragon.

If our delayed departure has caused anyone to lose sight of the tsunami-related objectives of our expedition, there was a big reminder this morning via news of a 70-foot dock from Japan washing ashore on the Oregon coast.

As our departure nears, uncertainty still lingers regarding our debris encounters. We know we will find plastic and trash, but what type and how much, if any, tsunami debris we will encounter remains unknown.

No indecision exists among my crewmates though. The passion and determination for trash free seas exhibited by each crewmember is inspiring, and there’s no question that we are ready for whatever Poseidon has in store for us.

This evening, I opened a card with words inside that flawlessly capture the spirit and purpose embodied by each person aboard this expedition:

“This is your world. Shape it or somebody else will.” – Gary Lew

Fortunately, the weather is looking up and we plan to set sail at first light. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s Scientist at Sea Center to stay up-to-date with my progress.

]]> 0
Surfers Find a Way and So Will Japan Fri, 01 Jun 2012 16:42:54 +0000 Nick Mallos

Surfers cross a debris-laden barrier island at Gamo Beach, Japan. Credit: Nick Mallos

A good wave is always worth the sacrifice. It’s a unanimous sentiment shared by surfers around the world. For surfers at Gamo Beach, Japan, though, it’s not pounding surf that yields a challenge.

Instead, a 200-meter-wide body of water requires them to paddle out to a barrier island, only to traverse another 100 meters of beach where remnants of houses, car parts, bottles and innumerable other tsunami debris items litter the sand. Still, they reach the waves.

Walls of water 10 feet tall formed this island, left this debris and destroyed—or at least severely damaged—everything in its path as it moved inland. Debris piles five stories tall are the only elevation visible on the coastal horizon.

The cleanup effort here is much further along than in the Tohoku region, but progress is relative considering the magnitude of destruction. I joined forces with 11 members of Cleanup Gamo and Jean Environmental Action Network to address this remaining debris in the best way we knew how: a beach cleanup.

I spent my entire time cleaning an area roughly 3 meters by 3 meters, and I amassed a list of items most people find scouring an entire beach. After an hour of grappling concrete and sorting through driftwood, I finally grasped the enormity of the task at hand.

In both Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, I judged progress by the number of debris piles and the amount of land cleared of debris. But once the final truck tire or refrigerator has been removed, another cleanup needs to occur—a far more gargantuan one.

Toy found among tsunami debris at Gamo Beach

Credit: Nick Mallos

Millions and millions of smaller debris items sit in the infinite crevices created by fallen trees or broken concrete. The tumultuous waters that swept in entangled twigs, ropes, fishing line and an array of debris items that one could spend hours trying to disentangle.

When our cleanup ended, our efforts were reduced to a small pile of bags undoubtedly containing stories of Japanese lives. Some probably say our efforts were insignificant in the grand scheme of the recovery effort, but I respectfully disagree.

Much like the issue of ocean trash, these small, individual efforts, when measured collectively, have huge implications for the health of our ocean.

Cleanups will be needed here, as well as in Iwate, for a very long time. But just as surfers always find a way to reach the waves, so too will the people of Japan find a way to clean up and recover from this tragedy.

My Debris Counts

  • 3 ropes
  • 2 espresso cans
  • 2 flower pots
  • 12 plastic wrappers
  • 4” x 6” foam padding
  • 1 condom wrapper
  • 3 plastic bags
  • 9 miscellaneous plastic pieces
  • 4 glass bottles
  • 3 plastic lids
  • 4 plastic bottle caps
  • 3 plastic water bottles
  • 1 other plastic bottle
  • 1 toy Yoda
  • 5 balloon ribbons
  • 1 burlap rice sack
  • 1 tube of glue
  • 1 motorcycle helmet
  • 1 coffee cup
  • 5 lighters
  • 1 aerosol can
  • 1 noodle bowl
]]> 0
Living in a Connected World: Lessons from Radioactivity in Tuna Fri, 01 Jun 2012 13:29:57 +0000 George Leonard

Bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, credit: NOAA

In the arc of human history, it is only very recently that we have begun to live in a connected world. Long before Facebook and Twitter, human populations were separated by continents — and oceans — in ways that limited cultural and information exchange. It turns out the oceans are much more connected. This was brought home this week in a new scientific publication – and subsequent blog by my colleague Carl Safina – that unequivocally showed that Pacific bluefin tuna had transported radiation from the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan to the shores of California.

For many, this news will beg the question: “Should I avoid eating bluefin tuna?” The answer is unequivocally, “yes,” but not because of the radiation – which is at levels low enough that it won’t have an effect on humans – but because of sustainability. The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates bluefin as “avoid” because because they are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Attention sushi lovers: Bluefin is also known as hon maguro or toro (tuna belly). If you see it on the menu, and you care about the future of fish, you should avoid it. If conservation concerns don’t motivate you, the high price alone may steer you away.
Bluefin tuna are amazing creatures. Unlike most fish, bluefin are warm blooded. Using a heat exchanger much like the radiator in your car, they can elevate their body temperature as much as 20 degrees Celsius above that of the water in which they live. And boy can they swim; at a full sprint, bluefin can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The result? Bluefin can cover vast distances, regularly migrating between the western Pacific, near Japan, to the west coast of California.

When the Fukushima plant began to spill radioactivity into the ocean last year, I wondered whether that radioactivity might make it to our shores. Certainly, the Pacific is a very big ocean and even high concentrations of radioactivity would be expected to be diluted in its vast waters. But fish, like Pacific bluefin, also can accumulate radioactivity in their muscle tissues, and juvenile bluefin in the vicinity of the plant would be expected to pick up radioactive cesium (whose only source in the Pacific was the damaged plant). Indeed, when scientists sampled fish off the California coast, they found telltale signs of this cesium; they also determined that these fish had made the passage across the entire ocean basin in a matter of 4 months. While you and I can now do it on a jetliner in a few hours, this is a quick journey for a fish.

Pacific Bluefin – and other creatures like salmon sharks, sooty shearwaters, and loggerhead turtles – reveal just how connected the oceans are. They all make vast migrations, highlighting that there really is no “away” when it comes to the oceans. And marine life isn’t the only example driving this home. Much of west coast is poised for the arrival of vast amounts of trash from the Japanese earthquake, inexorably making its way here, pushed by the wind and waves. My colleague, Nick Mallos is part of an expedition right now studying and tracking the tsunami debris. You can learn more about the expedition through his blog posts and twitter account.

While our smartphones connect us to friends and family, it is the bluefin tuna that really show how connected life on “planet ocean” really is.

]]> 1
Follow Me on a Journey to the Center of the Ocean Tue, 29 May 2012 19:14:18 +0000 Nick Mallos Nick Mallos

Nick Mallos

I’ve been in Japan for a week now, witnessing firsthand the devastation caused by the tsunami 15 months ago and helping with ongoing cleanup efforts as much as I can. At the end of the week, I set sail on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japanese Tsunami Expedition that will take me out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean in search of tsunami debris that was washed out to sea.

National Geographic has asked me to share updates about the expedition on their News Watch blog, so I posted my first entry while still on dry land.

Here’s an excerpt:

Documenting what types of materials are out there, and how they are responding to currents and wind, will help us understand the trajectory of the debris and what it means for our ocean and coastlines. I’m hoping this research expedition will provide a snapshot of what might show up on our shores.

Another goal of this trip is to enrich Ocean Conservancy’s broader study on ocean debris and plastic pollution. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of debris in the ocean was there a long time before last year’s tsunami disaster and was caused not by nature but by humans.

Stay tuned for more updates as I continue on this journey — and join Ocean Conservancy’s Trash-Free Challenge to help reduce your impact on our ocean.

]]> 0