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Crew removes 9,400 pounds of marine debris from Willapa Bay beaches | Washington Department of Natural Resources

A Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) crew normally tasked with removing invasive plant species has removed more than 9,000 pounds of marine debris from Willapa Bay beaches in southwest Washington.

DNR crew supervisor Todd Brownlee said the special month-long beach cleanup campaign was “extremely successful.” Much of the debris consisted of Styrofoam and plastic water bottles as well as discarded items like rugs and tires.

“We filled three 20-yard dumpers and had two truckloads of overflow to haul to the dump, as well as 30 to 35 contractor bags of debris,” Brownlee said, adding the crew collected 9,380 pounds of marine debris.

Washington saw a spike in amounts of marine debris on its coastal beaches in June 2012, some resulting from the March 11, 2011, tsunami that devastated Japan. The tragedy claimed nearly 16,000 lives, injured 6,000 people, and destroyed or damaged countless buildings.

The tsunami also swept 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean. While 70 percent of the debris sank near Japan’s shore, the remainder dispersed in the northern Pacific Ocean. Some of it has made its way to U.S. and Canadian shores – including Washington.

The origin of the debris collected along Willapa Bay cannot be positively identified since items from many parts of the Pacific Rim, including buoys and consumer plastics, regularly wash up on Washington beaches. None of the items had an individual or company name, serial number or other identifying information.

Brownlee said the four-person crew found marine debris to be especially concentrated at Rhodesia Beach, Wilson Point and Bay Center, located on the bay’s eastern shoreline.

DNR plans to use its crew in spring 2013 to check for additional marine debris on Willapa Bay beaches before the crew returns to eradicating non-native spartina cordgrass that has invaded Willapa Bay’s intertidal waters and salt marshes.

After the spike in marine debris in June, the quantity washing ashore has decreased significantly. However, winter weather and ocean current patterns typically wash more marine debris ashore than summertime conditions, including potential items from the March 11, 2011, Japan tsunami.

No state, federal or local entity is officially tasked with removing nonhazardous debris from coastal beaches.

The Washington State Marine Debris Task Force – a group of state agencies led by the state Military Department’s Emergency Management Division – has developed a state plan for responding to marine debris that may cross the Pacific Ocean and reach our shores from the March 11, 2011, Japan tsunami.

Gov. Chris Gregoire established the task force to coordinate state, federal and local activities to monitor and respond appropriately to marine debris along the Washington coast. The task force collaborated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop the plan.

The plan is designed to address both high-impact types of debris, such a large dock or debris containing a hazardous substance such as oil, as well as a potential steady influx of small nonhazardous debris.

The task force will oversee and continually update the state marine debris response plan, which is designed to be dynamic and evolve over time.

To answer questions about the plan and gain feedback, the task force is inviting people to community meetings on the Pacific coast.

Upcoming meetings are scheduled for:

  • Nov. 15 in Ocean Shores – 6:30 p.m., Ocean Shores Convention Center, 120 W. Chance A La Mer Ave.
  • Dec. 5 in Long Beach – 3 p.m., Peninsula Church Center, 5000 “N” Place, Seaview.

More about marine debris, including potential tsunami debris

Anyone encountering oil or hazardous materials like fuel tanks, gas cylinders, chemical totes and other containers with unknown fluids on Washington beaches should immediately report it by calling 1-855-WACOAST(1-855-922-6278) and pressing “1.”

The marine debris task force has established a marine debris information email listserv for Washington residents and coastal visitors. People can join by going to Ecology’s listserv page at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/maillist.html and choosing “marine/tsunami debris.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remains the best source for information about Japan tsunami marine debris including modeling, protocols to follow for handling marine debris and frequently asked questions. Go to http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/

NOAA is actively collecting information about tsunami debris and asks the public to report debris sightings to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov. Please include the time, date, location and, if possible, photos in such reports.

Don’t burn driftwood. Salt residue from ocean waters stays in pores of the wood, even after it’s dry. According to Ecology, when burned the chlorine reacts with the wood to form toxic compounds called dioxins that are released in the smoke. Such compounds can affect the immune system. If a beach fire is permitted, bring seasoned, non-driftwood, and enjoy.

State Parks asks people who want to clean debris from beaches to focus on small, non-natural items such as Styrofoam and plastic. Leave wood and kelp because these are an important part of the beach ecosystem. Stripping the beach of its driftwood depletes needed coastal habitat.

According to state law, it is illegal to burn garbage, and construction and demolition debris. More athttp://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=70.94.6512.

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