Debris that still washes up on Washington’s shores from the 2011 tsunami carries an environmental threat in the form of invasive species that have crossed the Pacific Ocean.
OLYMPIA — Four years after a tsunami devastated Japan’s coast, debris still washes up in Washington — and winds up in the hands of wildlife officials. It comes with an environmental threat — invasive species and parasites that have traveled across the Pacific Ocean.
Another barnacle-encrusted Japanese skiff recently made its way to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s aquatic invasive-species unit. The 25-foot boat was recovered off a remote shore near La Push, Clallam County.
The unit’s goal is to remove marine debris and prevent the spread of invasive marine life. On Thursday, coordinator Allen Pleus and technician Nancy Franco combed the boat’s crevices for biological samples that will be shipped to experts around the country for analysis.
The boat is the third such project to reach the unit this year.
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Nearly 40 such projects passed through the unit last year, said Pleus, who has seen everything from docks and boats to tires and refrigerators in the years since the tsunami. Some debris has been colonized by dozens of species that were thriving when discovered.
“These become their own ecosystems in the ocean,” he said. “What’s not natural is that they’re on man-made objects that don’t disintegrate.”
The tsunami was the result of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake March 11, 2011, off the coast of Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake to have ever hit Japan and was one of the strongest ever recorded.
The earthquake triggered a tsunami that destroyed much of Japan’s northern coast and also caused meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Nearly 16,000 people died in the catastrophe, according to the Japanese government, which reported that the tsunami swept nearly 5 million tons of debris out to sea. Much of the debris was believed to have sunk.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the bulk of debris is still dispersed north of Hawaii and east of Midway Atoll.