State task force releases response plan for dealing with marine debris that reaches Washington shores

Boat washed up on beach.
This 20-ft power boat washed ashore at Cape Disappointment State Park on June 15, 2012 and was confirmed missing after the March 11, 2011 Japan tsunami. Photo: Washington Department of Ecology.

When the tragic tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, an estimated 5 million tons of debris were swept into the Pacific Ocean. While 70 percent of the debris sank near Japan’s shore, about 1.5 million tons dispersed in the ocean.

To date, only one item found on Washington shores has been confirmed coming from the tsunami—a 20-foot fiberglass boat that washed up at Cape Disappointment State Park in June. Even so, Washington’s beaches experienced an increase in marine debris in June, much of which may have come from the tsunami.

As the fall and winter storms roll in and currents shift, experts believe more of the debris will be washing ashore. Just how much, where it will land, and when it will arrive is difficult to predict. But a task force of Washington state agencies is planning for the eventual arrival of marine debris.

Yesterday, Washington state’s Marine Debris Task Force released the Washington State Marine Debris Response Plan to respond to the various kinds of debris that may wash ashore on our state’s beaches. This collaborative effort coordinates local, state, and federal activities, which include monitoring and assessing debris; determining the safest ways to handle large debris and possible contamination;  preventing invasive species from establishing; and protecting native fish and wildlife in their habitats.

DNR is one of the dozen or so state agencies participating in the task force, with the state’s Military Department Emergency Management Division leading the effort.

Task force members will be taking the plan, which is a work in progress, to the coastal communities for some informational meetings in Long Beach, Ocean Shores, and Port Angeles. Dates and times will be announced when the meetings have been scheduled.

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