UPDATE — Researchers take marine life samples from Japanese dock that washed up on remote Olympic National Park beach
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U.S. Coast Guard (click on photo to enlarge)
Is this dock part of the Japanese fishing port of Misawa that was destroyed by the March 2011 tsunami? Another huge dock washed up on the Oregon coast in June (Click on 'Related Photos' gallery, below)
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The Associated Press (click to enlarge)
The massive Japanese dock that washed up last June in Oregon.
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The Associated Press
Another view of the Japanese dock that landed on an Oregon beach in June.

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OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Researchers took samples of marine life from a 64-foot concrete dock that swept ashore from Japan onto a remote beach between LaPush and the Hoh River, and are checking to see if any are invasive species.

The team, which hiked into the area today, located Japanese writing in one of the holds, said Rainey McKenna, Olympic National Park spokeswoman, and photos are being shared with the Japanese consulate to officially confirm this dock as tsunami debris.

After being turned back by a rain-swollen creek the day before, the team of Olympic National Park staff, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State University, today safely reached and inspected a dock suspected to be set adrift by the March 2011 Japanese tsunami.

The eight people hiked the five miles to the dock — three from Oregon State University, three from the park and two people from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife — inspected five surfaces of the dock and took live samples of potentially invasive species for laboratory analysis.

They were beginning to analyze the samples tonight at the incident command post in Forks, McKenna said.

More about the species sampled — and whether they pose a risk to the sensitive ecosystem — is expected to be known over the weekend.

Team members noted extensive damage to the dock, likely due in part to the rough weather and continued battering of the dock on rocks on the beach.

They also looked for — but did not find — an identifying plaque like the one found on the Misawa dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach near Newport, Ore.

A tracking beacon is now attached to the dock to track its position.

Photos taken today will be used to help develop a plan to remove the dock from the beach. No time frame has been set for removal.

Crews also took samples to test for any radioactivity, which is considered highly unlikely by state Department of Health experts.

Today's expedition is the only time this month crews will be physically able to inspect the dock until early January because of tides and daylight access.

The incident command post will stand down beginning this weekend and resume operations when tides allow safe access to the dock.

The samples taken are being evaluated to identify any invasive species by scientists from Williams College and from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary regulations prohibit disturbing wildlife by flying below 2,000 feet within one nautical mile of the coast or offshore islands. This includes the area where the dock has washed ashore.

Pending further information about the risks associated with the dock, the section of the park between Goodman Creek and Jefferson Cove is closed to all public entry.

Anyone sighting other significant debris that may be from the tsunami is asked to report it to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.


LAPUSH — A rain-swollen stream has prevented a team of investigators from reaching a huge dock believed to have floated across the Pacific to a remote beach south of LaPush after the Japanese tsunami of March 2011.

Olympic National Park officials said the team members, representing federal and state agencies, trekked several miles through rugged terrain Thursday but had to turn back 200 yards from the dock because they couldn't get across Mosquito Creek, running high and fast from a storm.

Team members plan to mount another effort today (Friday), if weather permits. They hope to verify that the dock came from Japan, measure it and inspect it for invasive species.

Tides in the area may make today the “last best shot” to reach the dock before early January, said Dave Workman, spokesman for the state Marine Debris Task Force.

The National Park Service-led team, which includes the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Williams College, Oregon State University and Ballard Diving and Salvage, was able to see the dock through binoculars.

Park spokeswoman Rainey McKenna, who was briefed on the operation late Thursday, said there appeared to be some marine organisms on the dock, but not a heavy amount.

No writings were visible on the dock, she said.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted the dock on the wilderness beach in Olympic National Park south of LaPush on Tuesday.

The beach, between LaPush and the Hoh River on the northwest tip of Washington, is about a five-mile hike from the nearest road on primitive trails crossing rough terrain.

The nearest towns are LaPush and Forks, of “Twilight” book and movie fame, about 100 miles west of Seattle.

Officials say the dock appears to be similar to a Japanese dock that washed ashore last June in Oregon. That dock was cut up and hauled away after officials removed marine organisms native to Japan that were found on the structure.

'Precarious location'

If the team members are successful in getting to the dock today, they will inspect it for invasive species, place a tracking beacon on it (in case it floats back to sea), take samples and measurements and verify dock's origin.

Removing the dock or just scraping it clean of potential invasive species of marine life “is going to be a real challenge to find the right solution,” Workman said.

“It's a very precarious location to get to, especially in these conditions,” Workman said. “At high tide there's no beach, and you've got a bluff.”

McKenna said there were 17-foot swells off the beach on Thursday, and three inches of rain in the last two days.

“There was a lot of water out there today,” she said.

The National Park Service has closed the beach area, between Hoh Head and Toleak Point, to all public entry.

“Our primary concerns are invasive species and making sure everybody is safe in this scenario,” park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said earlier Wednesday.

Sen. Maria Cantwell's office said the dock on the Olympic National Park beach was confirmed as tsunami debris from a photo taken by a fisherman and analyzed by a researcher working under a RAPID National Science Foundation grant to track debris.

Cantwell, D-Wash., is pushing federal legislation seeking $20 million for tsunami debris removal.

While the dock is likely of Japanese origin, Workman said officials will follow the protocol established by the United States and Japan to reach a definitive conclusion.

Dock on Oregon beach

Officials are concerned about non-native plants or animals that may have hitched a ride on the dock.

It is believed to be similar to the 165-ton concrete and steel dock that washed ashore in June near Newport, Ore.

Looking like a railroad boxcar, the Newport dock was 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and 7 feet high. A plaque identified it as one of four owned by Aomori Prefecture that broke loose from the port of Misawa during the 2011 tsunami.

The docks were used for loading fish onto trucks. One of the four docks turned up several weeks after the tsunami on an island south of Misawa.

Volunteers scraped off 2 tons of seaweed and creatures that were clinging to the Newport dock.

Among them were four species — a seaweed, a sea star, a mussel and a shore crab — that are native to Japan and have established themselves as invasive species elsewhere, said Caren Braby, manager of marine resources for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Officials won't know for a couple years whether any of them escaped to get a foothold in Oregon, she said.

The scrapings were buried above the high water line. The dock was sterilized with blowtorches, then cut up and removed last summer.

The Olympic National Park dock could get the same treatment to head off a non-native plant or animal taking hold, said state Fish and Wildlife Department spokesman Bruce Botka.

“Our folks are looking at everything at the front end to avoid having a much bigger problem later,” he said

Wilderness beaches

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 21. 2012 10:52PM
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