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Wave of Debris Hits Oregon Coast

Recent westerlies have blown across the Pacific sending yet another wave of debris upon Oregon beaches the past few days, much of it well-marked with Japanese writing. It’s really hard to definitively say that this is tsunami debris, but the majority of what we’re seeing has the characteristic markings and assemblages from previous influxes of debris that we saw in 2012. Beachgoers should be on the lookout for materials that may contain potentially invasive species, and report potentially hazardous materials through 211 or other marine debris reporting resources.

A 5 gallon bucket of black, gooey oil, washed ashore Sunday in South Beach (markings indicate Chinese) A 5 gallon bucket of black, gooey oil with Chinese markings, washed ashore Sunday in South Beach

It was Friday afternoon when I got the first message from a Siuslaw Chapter member - “Charlie, there’s 3 pallets just south of Sparrow Road, all with Japanese writing and a whole mess of mussels and stuff attached to them. Call me back”. Three hours later I had heard from 6 other individuals that had found other items in larger quantity - tires, floats, foam, household debris, plastic bottles of all sorts and kinds, all characteristically stamped with the language from a distant place and a haunting memory of natural disaster.

I dropped the handful of phone calls and emails up to as coincidence of little circumstance, plunged back into my weekend thinking not much more of it. It was when I sat down to dinner on Saturday night, that the weather, the recent sitings of debris and the likeliness of much more of it to come really dawned on me. It happened when a local fisherman dropped in our table as he came into the restaurant - it’s hard to go places in small coastal towns without running in to folks you know. “You know Charlie it’s coming, tell your beach folks”, he said. “What’s coming,” I asked. “Lots more debris, and keep an eye out for glass floats, we’re seeing a lot of em with these westerlies”, he went on. Then I remembered about the boat that washed up in Long Beach. last Wednesday. Of course, I thought, the westerlies are here and so is the debris!

Debris from my short walk on Sunday afternoon Debris from my short walk on Sunday afternoon

On Sunday morning I got the call from an OPRD beach ranger. “I need a rapid response cleanup at the Cape,” he said. “It’s about as worse as I’ve ever seen it, the classic stuff, mostly Japanese”. Having a look at the recent weather and strong westerly activity, I headed across the street to my local beach for a stroll and quick survey late in the afternoon. A tire, 4 floats (2 with non-native species attached, see photos), 16 plastic bottles, 2 lightbulbs, a boat hatch, a leaky topped 5 gallon bucket of thick, black oil, a window frame and a whole lot of foam was found in my short walk.

A boat hatch covered in algae from Sunday's walk A boat hatch covered in algae from Sunday's walk

Coastal folks know that this isn’t just tsunami debris, this is starting to become the new norm to some degree each spring. We’ve always been greeted following the westerlies by a handful of oceanic drifters, my kindred coastals know when to look for glass floats, by-the-wind sailors, and other oddities of the sea. It takes some steady west winds (much like we’ve been recently witnessing) to push this stuff out of the gyre system and run it ashore and the same applies to marine debris. We’re seeing a lot from Japan over the past few years during these events, but this marine debris trend began far before the tragic tsunami event in 2011.

plastic float covered in non-native mussels plastic float covered in non-native mussels

We encourage you to do your part to help reduce marine debris, both as a consumer and during your time at the beach. Being part of the solution also means pitching in! Please join us for a beach cleanup, or just do your part to clean up a few items on your own while you’re at the beach (bring a 5 gallon bucket, perfect for treasures or trash and leave the bag at home!).

photo 5 Styling gel anyone?

1 of 4 tires found on this same short walk 1 of 4 tires found on this same short walk


Another float, covered with oysters! Another float, covered with oysters!