Oregon Officials: Not All Asian Debris on the Coast is from Tsunami
(Oregon Coast) – In spite of a few rather high-profile and quite large items that have been proven to be from last year's tsunami in Japan, there does not seem to be a provable trend that indicates the Oregon coast is now receiving a deluge of debris from that disaster. Indeed, experts are urging a bit more caution in proclaiming finds along the coast as part of that debris field (Above: the dock washed up at Newport - photo by Terry Morse).
The dock from Misawa, Japan that hit the beach in Newport last week had the tell-tale signs – the definitive proof that it came from Japan. A plague on the structure showed where it was from and directly connected it to three other similar docks that had been torn from a Japanese port. The same happened with a motorcycle found in Washington state and a derelict ship discovered floating off the coast of Canada in March.
Now, after this last extremely high-profile incident on the Oregon coast, it seems Oregonians may have a bit of a “tsunami debris fever.” Since winter, a time when loads of stuff washes up on the Oregon beaches anyway, one media outlet after another has featured some story about Asian items found on these beaches. An object or two in Seaside or Cannon Beach; something else out of Lincoln City.
NOAA, Oregon State Parks and other officials keeping an eye on the debris aren't so anxious to pronounce these items as from the tsunami. The Surfrider Foundation's Oregon manager Charlie Plybon is one of those who raises a voice of caution amid the hub-bub.
“At this time, there's been a few 'confirmed' sightings of tsunami debirs and many 'unconfirmed,' “ Plybon said. “It's likely we'll never be able to distinguish some of these earlier and less identifiable items from debris that we might typically get with Japanese characters and lettering on it.”
That isn't to say local authorities aren't interested in finds on the beach that have an Asian origin – they're very interested. NOAA wants to see pictures and wants the public to send them to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.
Plybon says there's still quite a bit of premature assumptions being made.
“In general, the media tends to like anything that makes a story,” Plybon said. “Part of making a story is indeed playing things up. We are definitely seeing some signs of debris, nothing 'catastrophic', but I do believe people are anxious to find something. People, like the media, want a story. Going with your family to the beach and finding some plastic debris as usual doesn't make for a good story. But a family that goes to the beach and finds tsunami debris, well, that's something we can tell our grandkids about.”
While a myriad of media have covered items sent into them by viewers or readers, NOAA has by and large shied from proclaiming these as part of the debris field – mostly because it's too hard to prove it's simply not part of the normal garbage that sneaks onto Oregon beaches.
One good example of this was back in March, when a guest staying the Coho Oceanfront Lodge in Lincoln City found a hard hat with Asian writing on it at Agate Beach (at least two months before the dock washed up there), it sparked a small fury. A film crew even took a look at it.
After photos were passed onto NOAA and other experts via Oregon Coast Beach Connection, NOAA was quick to say they couldn't proclaim it as part of the tsunami debris. Other local experts noticed it did not have enough sea life attached to it to indicate it had traveled from Japan for a year. It was even eventually discovered the the hard hat's writings were in a language other than Japanese.
In response to this and other incidents of jumping the gun, Plybon urged common sense – and to keep in mind many objects from Asian countries land here all the time.
“I think the general message is: our beaches are open, use common sense when encountering debris as one always should take,” Plybon said. “ If you have concerns about debris and what to do if you encounter any, follow the general guidelines from NOAA.”
Below: the dock at Newport, courtesy Oregon State Parks.
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