Up the Beach — Beachcombing bonanzas, tsunami studies and sockeye surge

What is a day in May with sunshine and west-southwest winds? Bet you never in a million years thought it would be beachcombing weather. Well it is … What is the cause of all this beacher activity? All the Japanese tsunami debris washing ashore, of course.

Great beach eats

The sand pounders and the local eagles have been having a great time at the beach, as well. Any time the government opens a beach to clam digging, it’s like throwing bread to seagulls. Add to that the fact that the debris coming in on each tide includes attached smorgasbords of gooseneck barnacles. The eagles are also hunting in the upper beach grass, which is teeming with voles and other small critters this time of year.

Tsunami boat?

Of course, the big tsunami debris news was the appearance ashore of a probable Japanese dory at Ocean City State Park that is under examination by the U.S. Coast Guard and Grays Harbor Emergency Management for invasive species and confirmation of its origin by the Japanese Consulate in Seattle. The words that appear on the hull of this boat are Asian.

The state Marine Debris Task Force was called into action after Parks officials saw the massive amount and different types of sea life that attached themselves to the boat.

The old beachers are kinda smirking among themselves over the agitated flat lander news reports of unusual and large unknown species that beachers recognized right away as gooseneck barnacles from the ocean depths which have been long known to the Quinault and Queets oldsters as darn good eating.

Beachcombing bonanzas

Housing and fish boat debris is coming in on stretches of miles along the coastline. Last week a piece of fiberglass boat debris was photographed by Mark Cady down at the Pacific County Bolstad approach. Lots of small stuff, plus flotsam and jetsam are being hauled home with locals who can’t help but wonder … “Why in the heck am I doing this and what the heck am I going to do with it?”

Look but don’t touch

Lots of folks wonder why the younger generation does not understand the old-fashioned, cardinal beachcombing rule that if a comber makes a pile of stuff on the beach above the high water mark you don’t touch the stuff, let alone carry it off. That rule worked for years and years. Sure doesn’t today though.

Japan tsunami report

Meanwhile the TsuInfo Alert reports that a slippery, weak, fault zone caused the massive 2011 Tsunami in Japan. A team of 27 scientists from 10 different countries published a series of reports in the journal Science explaining factors in the 9.0 earthquake. The earthquake, which occurred in a subduction zone (like the one off the Grays Harbor coast) caused the Pacific plate to plunge beneath the North American plate, in an unusual earthquake that ruptured all the way to the sea floor.

Earthquakes generally displace plates about 66 feet, but in this instance, the slip was 164 feet. According to Patrick Fulton, a University of California researcher, these earthquakes do not rupture all the way to the surface.

New tsunami book and articles

A new tsunami book, “Tsunami Events and Lessons Learned,” edited by Ye Kontar, is a collaborative effort by world experts from information presented at the Ocean Science Session held in 2012 in Singapore and from other conferences. It covers information from the 2004 Indian Ocean, the Japan 2011 and the 2012 Central Pacific Ocean tsunamis.

Closer to home, Ian Miller of Washington Sea Grant wrote of the impacts of the Japan tsunami in the Coast Nerd Gazette, noting that tsunami waves propagating into the Port Angeles harbor were documented.

Increasingly traces of pre-historic tsunamis are being uncovered along the shorelines of the Straits. Curt Peterson and Sara Sterling recently published a paper documenting their discovery of sand layers in the Salt Creek Marsh deposited by tsunamis 1,000 to 2,000 years ago. (http://tsunamisociety.org/STHVol13N4Y2013.pdf)

Peterson has also published reports on the Holocene deposits in the Watch Valley at Neah Bay in Coastal Research.

Radiation levels measured

In British Columbia, citizen scientists, much like the local COASST volunteers, are sampling sea water to determine the ratio of low-level radioactivity from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that has traveled across the Pacific and was expected to arrive on the West Coast this spring.

This is the result of a crowd-sourcing program instigated by Ken Buesseler, research scientist, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Good sockeye and oyster news

So enough, already that scare mongers will surely get excited discussions full of doom and gloom over coffee – there is some good news out there.

Ocean conditions and feeding habits are being credited for a large return of sockeye this year. The same upwelling that increased chlorophyll concentrations that fattened zooplankton along the coast to feed sockeye has another benefit — increased oyster health. Good news for Lytle Seafood that is sporting a snazzy new oyster barge — and no — it isn’t an oyster boat, it is a barge.

According to the NOAA Fisheries West coast Region report, in the late 1800s sockeye returns ranged from 2.25 million to 2.62 million. Overfishing and habitat reduction caused the fish population to crash.

A surprising resurgence of 95.5 percent of naturally spawning salmon species is underway. April sees more upwelling conditions that impact returning spawners to local rivers. Changes in atmospheric pressure lead to changes in wind patterns and temperatures that promote upwelling carrying zooplankton.

Bring on the birds

The fantastic, lush vegetation in all habitats has sure brought out the small birds this spring. Out on Grass Creek in the restoration area, the red-winged blackbirds are all over the place just singing their hearts out.

From the Copalis River area to the Humptulips sloughs, the American goldfinches are flying all over the place with nest building materials in their beaks or just out sitting in the sunshine.

Song sparrows are in backyards lining up at the birdfeeders. In ditches and swales, the mallard ducks are glistening and gleaming as they gather around their nests.

In the marshes, Virginia rails are being reported. And the Peregrines are always gliding over Bowerman Basin looking for prey.

Down around Oyehut, immature eagles are playing in the warm air currents rising from the highway.

Deer, bears, cougars and fishers, oh my!

Not too many 2014 fawns yet but lots of pregnant does grazing with last year’s fawns in almost every yard around Ocean Shores. Bears and cougars are being spotted along the beach. And that sign of spring runs — fishermen — are being spotted at the WDFW fishing ramps along the Humptulips.

Glass fishing floats arriving

Even if the rains begin again, just remember, we had sunshine for a while and we still have fishing, razor clam digs and… shhhh … glass fishing floats coming in — locals only, please. After all, there should be a season for locals to get theirs first.

Come to think of it—why not ban all vehicle glass ball hunts and put everyone on an even keel — if you can’t walk to find glass fishing float treasures, then you don’t deserve one.

Monitoring a can of worms

Monitoring responsibility has become a can of worms with NOAA’s responsibility extends to oceans but not to radiation. The Department of Energy is responsible for monitoring radiation, but not responsible for the ocean.

Twenty-two sites for data collection have been funded with another 27 sites seeking funding to test for cesium-134 and cesium-137, both of which were released at Fukushima. It takes three years for the radiation plume to reach our coast because it takes that long for ocean currents to mix sea water on one side of the Pacific with the other side.

A website started by Buessler can be found under OurRadioactiveOcean.org An animated version of the Woods Hole graphic of the plume moving across the ocean is available at vancouversun.com

For information on how water sampling is conducted visit the Woods Hole video on the same website.


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