Large dock — tsunami wreckage? — washes up on Olympic National Park beach
By Peninsula Daily News
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Federal, state and tribal agencies are mounting a coordinated mission to reach the site on ground to evaluate the "massive dock for any potential invasive aquatic species that may have 'hitchhiked' while it was drifting in the ocean and to develop a response, " according to a state Department of Ecology statement.
Authorities also want to conclusively determine that the dock is part of debris from Japan's 2011 tsunami, officials said.
It was spotted on a beach between LaPush and the mouth of the Hoh River by a Coast Guard helicopter crew Tuesday.
The National Park Service has closed the wilderness area between Hoh Head and Toleak Point to all public entry. Rangers are concerned about the safety of people encountering the large, heavy dock in the ocean surf.
The Coast Guard had been looking for the dock since a fishing vessel spotted it adrift in the Pacific Ocean off the Olympic Peninsula coast last Friday.
"The Coast Guard was out in challenging conditions looking for a needle in a haystack, and they found it," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement.
Terry Egan, a scientist studying tsunami debris for state Ecology, believes the newly arrived dock may be one of four pieces from the Japanese fishing port of Misawa.
Last June 5, one of the pieces landed on Oregon's Agate Beach near Newport. It was soon confirmed that it had floated 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean after being knocked loose from its moorings in Japan following the massive earthquake and tsunami there.
Several invasive organisms — including a tiny species of crab, a species of algae and starfish, all native to Japan — were found on the 165-ton, 66-foot-long dock, which was made of reinforced concrete and plastic foam.
The creatures were destroyed with blowtorches, and the dock was cut up and hauled away.
Olympic National Park protects over 70 miles of wild Pacific beaches on the Washington coast. Much of the coastline, including where the new dock washed up, was designated by Congress as wilderness in 1988.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program has been leading efforts to collect data, assess debris and reduce possible impacts to coastal communities and natural resources.
The Japanese government estimated that the March 11, 2011, tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific. Most of that sank immediately, while 1.5 million tons were dispersed across the North Pacific.
NOAA estimates the bulk of what is coming either has arrived or will in the next year or so — but that's a rough guess.
NOAA has received about 1,400 debris reports in the past year, including bottles and buoys.
Of those reports, 17 have been confirmed as definite tsunami debris, including a 20-foot boat, pieces of which were recovered earlier this month in Hawaii.
Anyone sighting other significant debris that may be from the tsunami is asked to report it to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.
There are two government websites with information on tsunami debris — http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris and http://marinedebris.wa.gov.
Last modified: December 19. 2012 1:27AM