Logs and wood debris are common along our beaches. This year, however, beachgoers may see a larger amount of logs and milled lumber debris, such as small beams and other structural lumber. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers guidance on what to do when you encounter this type of debris in its new blog, How to Handle Wood Debris.
Logs and sticks, seaweed, eelgrass, shells, feathers, and even fish and animal carcasses are a natural part of Washington’s coastal beaches.
Unfortunately, synthetic and artificial items like Styrofoam, plastic, treated wood, nylon rope, glass, and metal also wash up on our shores every day. Marine debris has been an ongoing issue for decades.
The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011:
While it’s estimated that about 70 percent of the debris sank near Japan’s shore, the remainder dispersed in the northern Pacific Ocean. Some items started reaching Washington shores in 2012.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the lead U.S. agency responsible for predicting how marine debris moves in the ocean. NOAA scientists and state experts say Japan tsunami debris has been washing onto Washington beaches in a scattered, intermittent manner. The timing and location is governed by local weather.
NOAA has developed a “Frequently Asked Questions” fact sheet about Japan tsunami debris.
According to NOAA, there is no tsunami “debris field” or consolidated collection of debris out at sea. Instead, debris is dispersed across a vast ocean area about three times the size of the continental United States. It is so scattered and spread out that it can’t be seen by even sophisticated satellites.
Because debris from the Japan tsunami has been at sea for more than two years, it’s also possible some portion has mingled with other debris already floating out at sea.
Japan’s Ministry of the Environment has predicted increases in tsunami-related debris coming ashore in 2013, including woody debris such as small beams and other structural timbers, and boats swamped by tsunami waves in 2011.
In Washington, items from many parts of the Pacific Rim such as buoys and plastics regularly wash up on our beaches. This means it is difficult to tell the origin of debris without unique information such as:
Some items found on Washington beaches have been confirmed to be Japan tsunami debris. NOAA worked with the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle to confirm the origin of several items including:
An array of other items including small beams and other structural timbers, a wooden statue, industrial pipes and beams, and large pieces of fiberglass that seem to be parts of boats or other vessels also have washed up. However, with no unique identification, it has not been possible to confirm with certainty the origin of these items.
Washington has a toll-free reporting and information line – 1-855-WACOAST (1-855-922-6278) – for people who spot marine debris, including potential tsunami debris, on our coastal beaches. People who call 1-855-WACOAST can:
With Options “1” and “2,” callers will be connected to someone who can dispatch responders.
When callers press Option “3,” information will be routed to invasive species experts, who will determine what action needs to be taken.
The line also lets callers know how to report potential tsunami debris to NOAA.
NOAA asks beachgoers and boaters to report marine debris suspected to be from the Japanese tsunami to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov. This includes photographs, when possible, and specific location of the debris.
NOAA remains the best source of information for Japan tsunami marine debris including:
Numerous entities manage Washington’s 375 miles of coastal beaches and tidal lands. These include:
Since April 2012, local and tribal governments, state and federal agencies, and community organizations have worked to forge strategies for responding to different types of marine debris that potentially could wash ashore on Washington’s beaches.
The state marine debris response plan is designed to give local, tribal, state, and federal responders flexibility in rapidly assessing a high-impact debris item and identifying which agencies will respond and what resources will be needed to protect public health and safety and the environment.
The plan is designed to coordinate rapid responses to marine debris of significant impact – particularly items that are large, contain hazardous substances such as oil or toxic chemicals, or pose invasive species concerns.
The plan also is tailored to address the steady response to a potential influx of more routine, nonhazardous debris by supporting ongoing local community efforts – traditionally undertaken by dedicated volunteers – to remove these items.
The plan calls for supporting these beach cleanup efforts by providing volunteers with litter bags and access to trash bins. If debris amounts overwhelm local efforts, crews from the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps can be dispatched.
The state response plan will continue to evolve over time and adapt to changing conditions.
People are encouraged to do their part in cleaning up the increase in synthetic,
nonhazardous marine debris on our coastal beaches. However, it’s important to
look for specific hazard symbols and labels when you encounter debris to
ensure these items are handled smartly.
Every year, hazardous materials wash ashore Washington’s beaches such as:
If you encounter these items on the beach, do not touch these items or try to remove them. Instead, immediately report these items by calling 1-855-WACOAST (1-855-922-6278) and pressing “1.”
State and federal authorities will lead response efforts to remove any immediate threats to public health and safety and the environment. Every year, Ecology handles 3,800 reports of oil spills and hazardous material releases and conducts 1,200 field responses across the state.
Aquatic invasive species can pose significant environmental and economic risks if they become established on Washington’s coastline.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is the state agency with lead responsibility for responding to reports of marine debris that may harbor aquatic invasive species. WDFW has more information about tsunami-related aquatic invasive species.
If you find debris items you suspect may harbor aquatic invasive species, you can help by following these steps:
This information should be reported immediately to WDFW’s Aquatic Invasive Species Unit by calling 1-855-WACOAST (1-855-922-6278) and pressing “3” to reach WDFW’s Aquatic Invasive Species Unit. State invasive species experts will determine what action needs to be taken.
Or you can complete and submit an Online Invasive Species Report Form.
Remember: Never move debris with organisms on it to other bodies of water such as an aquarium, pond, or estuary. It increases the risk that invasive species will spread.
Washington State Department of Health radiation experts have surveyed, analyzed, and tested thousands of items of marine debris and found no elevated radiation levels.
As expected, only the normal low background levels of radiation were found, so state health officials have discontinued random marine debris testing. Debris clearly marked as containing radioactive material will be examined.
Anyone with questions about potential radiation issues may contact the state Health Department at 360-236-3300 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People may see more wood than usual on our beaches but we ask that you not burn driftwood because salt from ocean waters stays in pores of the wood, even after it’s dry. When burned, chlorine in the salt residue reacts with the wood to form toxic compounds that are released in the smoke. These particles are unhealthy to breathe and also settle back on the land as toxic contaminants that reach our waters when it rains.
Where beach fires are permitted, Ecology recommends people bring seasoned, non-driftwood and enjoy.
It’s also good to leave driftwood in place on the beach. Stripping the beach of its driftwood depletes needed coastal habitat.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission asks people who want to clean debris from beaches to focus on small, non-natural items such as plastic, Styrofoam, other synthetic materials, glass, and metal.
Please leave untreated wood, seaweed, eelgrass, other plants, shells, and crabs because these are an important part of the beach.
State and local agencies are shouldering many of the costs associated with increases in marine debris within their existing budgets.
There is one dedicated state funding source for debris cleanup, a $500,000 allocation from the governor’s emergency fund that is administered by the Washington State Military Department’s Emergency Management Division (EMD). Most of this one-time funding is being reserved to address high-impact debris such as large, difficult-to-remove items.
Since there is no ongoing state funding source for cleaning up litter along beaches, the state is seeking federal assistance. Aid so far includes:
There is little chance human remains from Japan will arrive with the debris. However, if you do see something that concerns you, immediately call 9-1-1.
Flier: What to do if you see debris
Department of Military's Emergency Management Division
Department of Health - potential radiation concerns
Department of Fish & Wildlife – potential invasive species, marine debris removal concerns
Washington Dept. of Health (potential radiation concerns): email@example.com
Report tsunami debris to NOAA: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © Washington State Department of Ecology. See http://www.ecy.wa.gov/copyright.html.