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June 13, 2013 | 1 Comment

Debris keeps “lumbering” in

If you’ve been at the beach lately, you’ve probably noticed the large amount of lumber and wood washing ashore, much of it covered in organisms. Meticulous new research by the District of Ucluelet in British Columbia has has traced a particular type of this structural post and beam lumber back to Japanese origin.

Particularly they’ve been able to reveal this insight through the presence of Japanese marine organisms and the specific mortise and tenon joints used in Japanese construction.


The research is the work of Karla Robison (Manager of Environmental & Emergency Services, Ucluelet) and Stephen Holland, who have assembled a detailed picture of the size (to millimeter dimensions), shape, construction, milling, and joinery of these  distinctive pieces of wood. Just last week on my beach walk from Thiel Creek to Lost Creek, I saw over 67 pieces of this type of lumber, in just a half mile walk.debris_wood

Numerous samples of the organisms on this wood collected by community volunteers and researchers at Oregon State University have revealed living species, particularly mussels of invasive concern.  We suspect there is likely to be a good deal more of this material “out there,” especially along the Washington and Oregon coasts, and perhaps ashore in Hawaii as well, based upon previous landings of Japanese materials. Alaska and California may be receiving this wood pulse as well.

Other noticeable organisms that appears on the wood, giving it a “fuzzy” or “busy” appearance, are extensive hydroid colonies, which have yet to be fully understood or identified as potentially invasive. In addition, wood-at-sea for this length of time has the potential to acquire oceanic species of shipworms (teredinid bivalves) [as opposed to harbor-dwelling shipworms], which may be best discovered by sawing open the wood, unless exposed shell-lined burrows are evident.

So, now I’m going to use the word tsunami for the first time in this blog post. We (The US), have a sort of diplomatic agreement with Japan about what we call tsunami debris and what we don’t. Japanese Government estimates of the Japanese tsunami debris field included a large amount of home / house lumber.  This material may represent part of this debris field, as predicted, however we apparently don’t label this “tsunami debris” unless we can trace it specifically back to the March 2011 event.


For me, seeing these items on the coast does remind of that tragic event and it’s hard for me to say, this is not remains from that 2011 tsunami event. I don’t see this as debris, but what was lost by many, in an unprecedented event in my lifetime. To many researchers this wood will help them better understand the currents of the ocean, how things move from one place to another – from the living marine organisms that may pose an invasive threat to our coastlines or to the wood itself to better understanding patterns to track pollution events. The lumber and wood will mean something different to all of us and is something to keep an eye out for on your next beach walk.

One thought on “Debris keeps “lumbering” in

  1. Louann Rank says:

    “Fuzzy” lumber matching the photos here, about half a dozen with mortise & tendon construction work, were on the beach two miles north of Depoe Bay, Oregon, in the past month.

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