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Tsunami Debris Poses Varied Problems for Oregon Coast
(Oregon Coast) – The Japanese dock that landed at Agate Beach on the central Oregon coast is posing a host of dilemmas for state officials and experts, and it may be a sign that ridiculously large objects could make landfall again. (Above: close-up of the dock)
Early Wednesday, it was determined that the 66-foot-long dock that showed up in Newport this week did indeed come from the tsunami in Japan last year. Now it poses a long series of problems for officials as they wonder how to get rid of it, the cost and more.
Is this a sign that the floodgates have opened for the much-discussed tsunami debris arriving here? Is this a harbinger of how big some of the debris will be? What will be the costs involved? And then there's the lingering question of “Is there a bit too much media sensationalism regarding the tsunami debris?”
Charlie Plybon, Oregon Field Manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said that this dock from Misawa, Japan, currently on a Newport beach may or may not be an indication that more large items will wash up on on the Oregon coast. The signs are beginning to point to “yes” on that issue, but there are still some bigger factors here that could explain what's happening and how quickly it's happened.
The boat found offshore of Canada earlier this year, for example, is enormous – but it's buoyant. Plybon said both the boat and the dock stayed afloat and were large, so the wind could easily push them along.
“So they moved a bit faster and got here a little earlier,” Plybon said. “It means we could see some of the larger items earlier if they have that wind power behind them, rather than seeing them later.”
Most heavier objects will be seen on the Oregon coast later, however, Plybon believes.
“This is definitely the biggest deal we've had to get off the beach,” Plybon said of the dock. “And it's going to be expensive.”
Plybon estimated it would take thousands of dollars to demolish the dock, which is made of steel and concrete. Another option is to tow the thing back out to sea, but that too will be expensive.
Plybon admits that if larger stuff like this dock washes onshore on a regular basis, disposal cost alone could seriously test state resources. One of the possibilities Surfrider and state agencies have been looking into is volunteers, not unlike the SOLVE beach clean-ups. This could help offset some costs, but not necessarily in the disposal of a large object like the Misawa dock, which will require highly trained experts.
Oregon State Parks and Recreation has said it will absorb the cost for disposal of this dock.
Plybon said normally a boat owner in the U.S. assumes financial liability for their derelict vessel if it wanders up onto a beach in this country. But that is not enforceable with Japanese boat owners, or those that own other large objects from the tsunami debris field, like docks.
Media coverage of the possible tsunami debris washing up on the Oregon coast before the Japanese dock this week has been a bit sensationalized, Plybon believes. They've been quick to point to almost any object found on the beaches with Asian writing on it and claiming it to be from the tsunami debris, and so have members of the public. Often left out of the discussion is the fact a lot of things from Asia wash up on the Oregon coast all the time, and the smaller pieces are almost impossible to prove that they're from the tsunami and not just part of the regular garbage floating in the ocean.
Still, Plybon is wowed by this occurrence, and also a bit troubled by something he saw near Pacific City recently.
“The Nestucca Spit is covered in plastic Styrofoam pieces right now,” Plybon said. “It's very possible these are from the tsunami. I don't know. But it's way more than I've ever seen.”
Another frightening issue presented by the dock is the possibility of invasive species. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking into that.
Now, Plybon and other officials are looking to the future, possibly even better warning of incoming debris.
“I also find it interesting that this was not noticed floating in the ocean, either by satellite or by mariner observation,” Plybon said. “I'm guessing that's just because only a portion of the dock was floating above the water. It is a big ocean out there.”
Still, Plybon said he'd like to see an improved warning system for such large objects.
While the dock story is a big one, and a possible sign of uglier things to come, Plybon finds its high profile a little annoying, especially considering the regular fight he has on his hands regarding what are likely millions and millions of pieces of plastic that wash up on the Oregon coast on a constant basis. He hopes this helps raise awareness of a larger, longer issue plaguing the oceans.
“Going with your family to the beach and finding some plastic debris as usual doesn't make for a good story,” Plybon said. “But a family that goes to the beach and finds tsunami debris, well, that's something we can tell our grandkids about. It frustrates me that this isn't just a greater call to the global garbage that circulates in our oceans.”
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