Community Meetings on Japanese Tsunami Debris Hosted by CoastWatch

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The derelict Japanese fishing vessel RYOU-UN MARU, adrift since it was launched by a tsunami caused by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck Japan in March, 2011, sunk by the Coast Guard April 5th, 2012. Photo provided by US Coast Guard.

A series of community meetings to share current information and science on marine debris left by the Japanese tsunami that took place last March will be taking place this month. These background sessions will feature updates from federal, state, and local experts, and are the prelude to a joint effort to organize Oregonians for a citizen-based response to monitoring and cleaning up whatever tsunami debris comes to the Oregon coast.

CoastWatch has announced that it will be taking the lead in organizing an event slated for the Seaside Community Center, 1225 Ave A, 2-3:30 pm on Wednesday, April 11th, one of 11 events planned.

According to the CoastWatch website several Oregon non-profit organizations that specialize in caring for the state’s shoreline and coping with litter are responding to the overwhelming volume of requests and questions from their volunteers and the public about the possible surge of tsunami-caused debris. These organizations, which in addition to CoastWatch include SOLVE, Surfrider Foundation, and the Washed Ashore Project, in partnership with Oregon Sea Grant/OSU Extension, will be sponsoring a series of public information sessions featuring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program staff.

These events will address public concern regarding debris pulled out to sea by the Japanese tsunami heading toward the West Coast, raising questions from ghost ships to what to expect while beachcombing. The best guess of oceanographers who study ocean currents is that the bulk of this tsunami debris may arrive on the West Coast a year from now, in 2013. However, some debris is already being reported as washing ashore.


CoastWatch is part of Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, aa advocacy group that calls itself, “the guardian of the public interest for our coastal region.”  Oregon Shores is dedicated to preserving the natural communities, ecosystems and landscapes of the Oregon coast while conserving the public’s access.  Oregon Shores pursues these ends through education, advocacy, and engaging citizens to keep watch over and defend the Oregon coast.

In 2009 the coalition was involved in protesting James Smejkal’s proposal to build a rural housing development on his 17-acre property across from Arcadia State Park on Highway 101. CoastWatch called Smejkal’s proposal “controversial from the outset” arguing that ” in order to develop eight houses on the land Smejkal had to win a zone change from the two present zones, Agriculture Forestry and Recreation Management, to Residential Agricultural. The area is partly surrounded by commercial timberland and is also steep and poorly suited to development. He would also have had to apply for exceptions to several land use goals, which is a complex and lengthy process.”  CoastWatch promises to be ” watching carefully to see what future proposals Smejkal might consider for his property.”

The coalition opposes LNG terminals, ships and pipelines, and coal bed methane extraction. It supports dry dock ship-breaking but opposes wet ship-breaking stating that it would necessarily expose the bay, the tidewaters, and the local fishing industry to toxins and invasive species. The coalition also supports establishing a regional network of marine reserves and marine protected areas along the West Coast of North America in addition to other conservation measures.

Key speaker at the debris awareness events will be Nir Barnea, West Coast regional coordinator for NOAA’s marine debris program. He will describe what is known about the contents and trajectory of the debris crossing the Pacific, and what is currently being done across the Pacific to prepare to deal with the debris.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program will be joined by individuals from the following invited organizations and agencies: U.S. Coast Guard, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division, County Emergency Managers, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Local waste managers and coastal haulers have also been invited as their experience with marine debris disposal could prove invaluable.

All events are free and open to everyone. After presentations, audience members will have a chance to ask questions about everything from public health to returning any personal valuables that may be found amid the debris.

The tentative list of times and locations for the Japanese tsunami marine debris presentations is listed below. To verify the schedule, go to for up-to-date information:

April 11th, Seaside 2-3:30 pm, Seaside Community Center  1225 Ave A • Seaside OR • 541-961-8143
April 11th, Bay City 6-7:30 pm, Bay City Arts Center  5680 A St • Bay City OR • 503-844-9571 x317
April 12th, Pacific City 10-11:30 am, Kiawanda Community Center 34600 Cape Kiwanda Dr • Pacific City, OR • 503-754-9303
April 12th, Newport 6-7:30 pm, Newport City Hall 169 SW Coast Hwy • Newport, OR • 541-961-8143
April 13th, Florence 10-11:30 am, Florence Fire Station 2625 Hwy 101 • Florence, OR • 541-297-4227
April 13th, North Bend 2-3:30 pm, North Bend Public Library 1800 Sherman Ave • North Bend, OR • 541-297-4227
April 13th, Bandon 6-7:30 pm, City Council Chamber/City Hall 555 Highway 101 • Bandon, OR • 541-297-4227
April 14th, Port Orford 10-11:00 am, American Legion Hall 421 11th St • Port Orford, OR • 541-961-8143
April 14th, Eugene 3:00-4:30 pm, EWEB Training Center 500 East 4th Ave N Bldg • Eugene, OR • 503-844-9571 x317
April 15th, Portland 3:30-5:00 pm, Ecotrust Natural Capital Center 721 NW 9th Ave • Portland, OR • 503-844-9571 x317
April 20th, Cannon Beach, 3-4:30 p.m., City Council Chambers, 163 E. Gower St. Cannon Beach

OregonWatch coordinator for Clatsop County is Lori Sinnen, 3957 Canby Street, Portland, 97219.

Related Article:
The Japanese Way: A Full Circle ~ A native Astorian shares his experience of the March 2010 earthquake that rocked Japan at a magnitude 9.0, followed by a devastating tsunami, while he was living there with his family.

This is article has been corrected from stating that CoastWatch was involved in protesting Smejkal’s proposal to clarifying that it was the coalition that was involved. CoastWatch does not take positions on issues.