MOCLIPS — A 32-foot Japanese boat washed ashore last week in Moclips, marking the sixth such boat to have ended up on the Washington coast in the past several weeks.
Kelly Calhoun, curator of the Museum of the North Beach, took numerous photos of the boat and salvage effort and said it clearly had Japanese origins. It is being examined to determine if it might have been set adrift during the 2011 tsunami off the coast of Japan.
Calhoun reports the boat was fiberglass and was removed on Thursday in an operation supervised by local State Parks rangers.
“The boat arrived upside down and someone with a John Deere tractor flipped it over earlier in the morning. It was covered in gooseneck barnacles. It is clearly from Japan with the name ‘Yamaha’ and all the Japanese writing,” Calhoun said.
In the previous week, a 21-foot boat was found just north of the Ocean Park Beach approach farther south down the coast. It was removed from the beach and stored at Cape Disappointment State Park.
Fish and wildlife workers are now scraping marine life from the boat and checking it for markings to identify the owner.
The following day, two more boats washed ashore, one near the Seaview Beach Approach and another near the Bolstad Beach Approach near Long Beach. Those boats are now being stored at Ilwaco State Park.
On May 25, a 23-foot boat covered in barnacles and other marine life hit shore near Ocean City, so there are now two stored locally on the North Beach while state officials inspect them.
Also, the Japanese Consulate will be contacted in an attempt to find the owners.
“Many of these boats have washed ashore on parks land, so generally the Parks Department has handled moving them out of the surf zone, getting them cleaned of marine life, and looking for any identifying markers,” said Linda Kent, state Department of Ecology regional communications manager.
Once that is accomplished, if identifying markers are found, NOAA and the Washington Marine Debris Task Force (led by the Department of Military’s Emergency Management Division) notify the Japan Consulate in Seattle that there is an item that may be traceable, Kent said of the process to find an owner or the origin.
“This can take quite some time – a boat that washed ashore in January, for example, was confirmed May 9 as being washed away by the tsunami,” she noted.
If a boat does not have identifying markers, it is generally disposed of.
From an operations side, Ecology gets involved if there are hazardous materials, such as a fuel drum or canister, or if there is some sort of fuel present on a boat, which with the skiffs has not been the case, Kent said.
Ecology deploys trash bins to areas when there are upticks in debris as well as supplies like bags and gloves, and the agency also serves as external communications lead for the Task Force. If needed, Ecology also can activate the Washington Conservation Corps to clean beaches, as was done in 2012.
“We encourage everyone to dispose of small, nonhazardous debris on beaches and leave them better than they found them,” she said.
Allen Pleus, state Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator, said the first concern is taking samples of the shellfish and other species that are not native to the West Coast and have attached themselves to the boats and other debris.
The first issue to remove the object from the beach as quickly as possible, he said.
“We want to prevent any of those species from basically being washed off or have the object be broken up and refloated,” he said. “Once we get it off the beach, the immediate invasive species risk is no longer there. What we are trying to do is determine what the long-term invasive species risk is by carefully surveying and inspecting the boats for any non-native species.”
Most of the debris has had one or two, to as many as 60 different Japanese coastal species attached to it, Pleus said.
NOAA held a regional meeting on the subject in May, and Pleus said the consensus was the “debris is still out there and we need to keep moving on (with monitoring) at least for the next two years.
“Our concern and our question is how long are the non-native coastal species going to stay an issue as far as staying alive on the boats” and other debris, Pleus added.
The most persistent are a species of blue mussels, which could contain parasites or diseases that we don’t have in the Pacific Northwest. Also seen on much of the debris are gooseneck barnacles, which Pleus said are normally picked up in the open ocean and are therefore not as much of a concern.
“The blue mussels are not open-ocean species, and it has just confounded scientists that they are able to still survive after three years in the open ocean,” he said.
Here are accounts of the most recent finds:
• An approximately 23’ long boat covered in gooseneck barnacles and other marine life washed ashore near Ocean City Sunday night (5-25) and was removed from the beach by a contractor hired by the state Parks Department on Memorial Day (5-26). It is being stored at Ocean City State Park.
• On Saturday, (5-24) two other boats washed ashore, 0.1 miles north of the Seaview Beach Approach and 0.2 miles south of the Bolstad Beach Approach, respectively. This location is adjacent to Long Beach. The vessels were removed from the beach and are being stored at the Ilwaco State Park facility. There were markers that may help track down owners.
• On Friday (5-23) the bow piece of a small skiff washed ashore 1/2 mile north of Ebby’s Landing, east of Coupville on Whidbey Island. National Parks Service removed it from the beach.
• Also Friday (5-23) an approximate 21’ boat washed ashore ½ mile north of the Ocean Park Beach approach. It is being stored at Cape Disappointment State Park.
Three other boats have washed ashore prior to the Memorial Day Weekend this year.
• Long Beach (April 23) — This boat did not have identifying information and has been disposed of.
• Ocean Shores (April 28)—- This boat did have some information on it but not enough to help in identifying an owner.
• A boat that washed ashore at Westport (Jan 15) was confirmed as coming from the 2011 tsunami in early May.
A number on the boat helped with the confirmation through the Japanese consulate. The boat was personal property from the Miyagi Prefecture. The owner did not want it back. The boat was stored at Twin Harbor State Park until it was confirmed. Since the owner did not want it back, it has now been disposed of.
Kent said the state also has had an uptick in hazardous marine debris items like cylinders and canisters. People should use caution if they come across such items, not touch them and let experts remove them. Call 1-800-OILS-911. Details here: http://marinedebris.wa.gov/HazardousMarineDebris.html
• Confirmed tsunami debris reports can be accessed here: http://marinedebris.wa.gov/confirmed.html
• Washington State’s main marine debris site: http://marinedebris.wa.gov/
• DisasterDebris@noaa.gov: taking reports of debris that may be related to the tsunami, photos along with the reports noting item, date and location.