For 21 months, a 20-metre concrete and steel dock floated across the Pacific from Japan only to wash ashore just before Christmas on a remote beach on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Researchers think it’s part of a 1.5-million-tonne debris field adrift in the ocean after an earthquake-generated tsunami smashed into the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011—and a harbinger of a greater mess due to hit the North American coastline in the next few months.
Governments from Alaska, B.C., Washington, Oregon and California are co-operating with their federal counterparts and local governments on clean-up plans and strategies to deal with anything that makes land—including aquatic species not native to North America—as the winter storm season reaches its peak. The latest report from the Japanese environment ministry said most light, wind-blown debris like Styrofoam and buoys have already hit the Alaskan and B.C. coasts. Lumber, much of it from houses ripped apart by the tsunami, is expected to hit the coast between now and June, though tracking what remains afloat is an inexact science. Other debris discovered to date includes a fishing boat and a motorcycle in a shipping container.
The origin of the Olympic Peninsula dock has yet to be confirmed. Researchers are testing for radioactivity and to ensure the array of sea life attached to it doesn’t include invasive species from Japan. The nearest communities to the site are Forks and La Push, famous haunts in the Twilight series of books and movies, and a suitably eerie setting. A similar 150-tonne dock that washed ashore in Oregon in June proved to be an ecological nightmare, home to no less than four invasive species native to Japan. It was sterilized with blowtorches before it was cut up and hauled away.