A large dock believed to be from Japan landed on the Washington coast on Wednesday, the latest large piece of tsunami debris to cross the Pacific.
Large floating items like the dock, which washed ashore in a remote area near Olympic National Park, are growing rarer.
The stream of Japanese tsunami debris — including a boxed Harley-Davidson motorcycle that landed in Haida Gwaii in April and a 20-metre dock that beached in Newport, Oregon, in June — has morphed into a flow of Styrofoam, plastic bottles and other lightweight materials.
Predictions that 1.5 million tonnes of debris from the March 2011 tsunami would wash ashore B.C., Washington and Oregon in a drawn-out trickle rather than a short-term pulse are proving correct.
Larger buoyant items — such as a Japanese fishboat — reached North America first because they were caught by wind and currents, said John Braman, B.C.’s regional director for tsunami debris.
A computer model released by the Japanese government suggests that B.C. beaches could next see debris, like lumber, that floats half in and half out of the water. “I was up in Haida Gwaii not so long ago and I saw some shipping pallets and cribbing materials,” Braman said.
The wood material may not have been associated with the tsunami, he said: “It might have fallen off ships, but it’s more than I’ve seen there historically.”
Where debris comes ashore depends on the weather and can’t be predicted by the models, Braman said, “but I think we can reasonably expect some more woody debris.”
Over time, it will be harder to distinguish tsunami debris from other marine debris, he said.
“When exactly [the tsunami debris] will peak is a bit difficult to predict because it’s like predicting the weather,” he said. “Certainly, it will drop off over time.”
The amount of plastic — including bottles with Asian labels — coming ashore in the Ucluelet area has reached historical highs, said Karla Robison, the local tsunami debris co-ordinator.
“There’s tonnes and tonnes and tonnes … of plastic water bottles and Styrofoam,” she said.
“I will never drink out of a plastic water bottle again.”
The more popular beaches are cleaned up by frequent visitors, but there’s a lot of debris on more remote beaches, she said.
“There was one area where every step I took I could probably fill a grocery bag,” she said. “There was a lot of of plastics, a lot of heavy rope and Styrofoam.”
Shoes, toothbrushes and a hard hat have also been picked up, Robison said.
Members of the Toquaht First Nation have also picked up bottles bearing Asian writing and other bits of plastic, said Sarah Robinson, the band’s director of operations.
“We’ve definitely have had the pieces that float. We’re expecting to see quite a bit more debris washing ashore in the new year.”
© Copyright 2013