By: Nir Barnea, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator
Over the past several months, a number of large marine debris items, such as docks and other structures, have washed ashore on Oregon’s and Washington’s coasts. While these items may pose significant challenges, they also provide an opportunity for a collaborative response among state and federal agencies.
Such is the example of the floating pipe.
Here’s a look at how agencies work together on large debris:
A fishing vessel spotted the pipe-like structure, which extended out of the water, off the Washington Coast near the entrance to Willapa Bay, and reported it to the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard located the item from a helicopter, sent out notice warning mariners of the floating debris, and notified NOAA.
NOAA then notified the state and generated a trajectory model predicting the item’s path, incorporating ocean currents data and wind forecasts. Our modelers provided the state with the object’s likely position, the possible boundary of its location, and a time range for when the object should make landfall.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission sent a ranger to the location where the pipe was believed to be, found it, removed it from the beach, and disposed of it after sampling for invasive species. They did not find much marine growth.
There is no evidence that the pipe is from the tragic 2011 tsunami in Japan, and without a unique identifier such as a serial number, we may never be able to confirm its origin. However, the coming months will likely bring more marine debris to the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii, some of which may be Japan tsunami marine debris.
Past experience suggests to expect the unexpected. Yet, with a marine debris response plan in place, and the agencies collaborating nicely, we hope that all responses will work as well as this one.