A Long Journey

Japanese dock ashore on Oregon beach        

The dock was covered with marine organisms when it landed.

Recently we took the long way home to Washington after a visit to Roseburg, Oregon. We followed Oregon’s beautiful coastline, stopping to see lighthouses and explore beaches.

After spending a night in Newport, next morning we drove to nearby Yaquina Head Lighthouse. From the headland we could see sandy Agate Beach stretching along the shore. We also saw a boxy, man-made object stranded on the beach, with people clustered around it. “It’s the dock from Japan,” I exclaimed.

We drove back to our waterfront hotel and hiked down the beach to the big block of cement, one of four dock sections ripped away from their pilings when last year’s tsunami hit the fishing port of Misawa. One of them washed up on a Japanese island and two are still missing, but the winds and currents combined to carry this 66’ x 19’ x 7’ behemoth across 5000 miles of ocean to Agate Beach.

When the dock washed ashore in early June of this year, it carried millions of living organisms, including several species of plants, crabs, even a starfish native to Japan and unknown as yet in this country. When we saw it, volunteers had already scraped away a ton and a half of marine organisms and buried them above the high water line. Then they sterilized the dock with torches. Scientists are concerned that plants or creatures riding the debris from the tsunami will reproduce and establish a foothold along our coast, to the detriment of our wildlife.

Other items that were part of people’s lives in Japan are washing onto American and Canadian shores from California to Alaska. Unless they’d been in Japan’s waters prior to the tsunami, most will probably not carry unwelcome passengers. But by October, experts expect our coastlines to be inundated with about a million tons of debris.

Let’s hope there’ll be plans in place to deal with it.

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