More Tsunami Debris Found on Washington Coast

By DOUG ESSER | May 23, 2014

More than three years after the tsunami hit Japan, evidence of the disaster continues to haunt the West Coast where residents know they also are vulnerable.

A skiff that was once used by someone near Sendai washed ashore in January on the Washington coast near Westport, the state Ecology Department said.

Scraping away years of seaweed growth revealed a number that was tracked with the help of the Japanese Consulate back to the Miyagi Prefecture, where Sendai is the capital.

“The former owner does not desire to have it returned,” said Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent.

Two similar skiffs covered in seaweed and barnacles were found April 23 at Long Beach and April 28 at Ocean Shores. The Long Beach skiff has no identifying information and has been disposed of, but the Ocean Shores skiff had some markings. It’s being held at Ocean City State Park while the state and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration try to identify it through the Japanese consulate, Kent said.

All the boats have been scraped to remove any possible invasive species of marine life.

It takes quite a bit of detective work to confirm whether or not debris is likely from the March 2011 tsunami, Kent said. The skiff that was found Jan. 15 was confirmed on May 9.

There has been a “slight uptick” this year in the amount of possible tsunami debris found on the Washington coast, including oil drums, small propane tanks and canisters, Kent said.

“This was stuff that was floating a bit lower in the water,” she said Tuesday. “Earlier debris was high-floating, pushed more by the wind.”

There have been more than 20 fuel tanks or oil drums found on the Washington coast so far this year – almost twice as many in a typical year, she said.

Some of the rusty tanks found recently have Asian lettering, but it’s still difficult to determine whether they are from Japan or some of the other flotsam that regularly hits the shores.

Dozens of buoys of the type used off Japan were some of the first tsunami debris found on Washington beaches. The largest piece of tsunami debris was a boxcar-sized concrete and foam dock that washed ashore in December 2012 on an Olympic National Park beach. It was similar to the dock that landed at Newport, Oregon, in June 2012. They were cut up for disposal.

Most of the debris should simply be thrown away by beachcombers or the volunteers who help keep beaches clean. If someone finds a propane tank or something else potentially hazardous they should call authorities, Kent said.

Winter storms and seasonal changes in the currents may be responsible for throwing up debris that has been drifting in the Pacific for years.

“Over time it will probably get harder and harder to tell whether it’s related to the tsunami event,” she said.

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