DNR Spartina crew on the hunt for marine debris in Willapa Bay

WA DNR Spartina crews with marine debris. Oct. 18, 2012
DNR Spartina crew pose with an airboat full of marine debris from Willapa Bay. From left to right: Aaron Schlosser, Kevin Palmer, and Ian Brauner.

Every summer, a crew of seasonal and full-time DNR staff comb the beaches in the Willapa Bay estuary removing Spartina alterniflora, an invasive, fast-growing grass. Left unchecked, this species of cordgrass, originally from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, could threaten oyster populations in the bay by crowding out native species and disrupting the ecosystem.

Fortunately, diligence has paid off: the seasonal work to remove Spartina has reduced an area of infestation from a peak of 9,000 acres to less than 2 acres.

Normally, when the Spartina eradication season ends in mid to late October, the seasonal crews are done for the winter, and the regular staff turn to other duties. This year, however, DNR was able to extend the work of the four-man crew by more than a month—through November 15—to focus on removing marine debris from beaches around Willapa Bay.

Some of the marine debris may be coming from the tragic March 11, 2011 Japan tsunami. Although at this time, experts have only been able to confirm two items that washed up on Washington’s shores were from the tsunami: a 20-foot fiberglass boat and a plastic commercial fish tote.

What is the crew finding? Mostly a lot of plastic bottles with Asian writing—including a full bottle of shampoo—and chunks of broken up Styrofoam. Some of the more interesting items they found include fishing floats and a folding canvas chair in good condition.

What are they doing with the debris? Crew members bring debris by the truckload to the DNR shop in Long Beach and store it there until they have enough to fill a 20-yard dumpster. At the shop, the crew sorts out any recyclable material. The rest goes into the dumpster.  Since the crew started cleaning up the debris in October, they’ve filled two-and-a-half dumpsters.

The Spartina crew will  resume cleaning up marine debris this spring, and will be able to compare the amount of debris collected over the stormy winter months from what they collected this fall.

To get a closer look at some of the debris the crew is picking up, check out the article, photo, and video footage from the Daily Astorian.

Other marine debris cleanups on the coast
Last June, the Washington Department of Ecology sent out three six-member crews from the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) for three days to clean up marine debris along 57 miles of coastal beaches in southwest Washington.

Numerous volunteer organizations are and will be doing the lion’s share of beach cleanups all along the coast of Washington and in coastal estuaries such as Willapa Bay. With limited funding available for removing marine debris, volunteers will be the heart and soul of the cleanup effort.

Want to learn more about state’s response plan for marine debris? Attend a community meeting taking place in three coastal towns over the coming weeks.

For updates and more information, visit the Washington Marine Debris web portal at http://marinedebris.wa.gov/.

What to do if you see marine debris.

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