Did A Tsunami Boat Wash Up?

Mike Dronkers / Monday, June 2 @ 4:06 p.m. / Ocean

[Photos: Lincoln Doyle]

The battered, barnacle-encrusted skiff pictured above recently washed ashore in Humboldt Lagoons State Park. California State Parks superintendent John Vallet confirmed as much this afternoon.

"We have been made aware of this boat, and we have relayed this information to the Coast Guard," said Vallett. He also confirmed the presence of marine life attached to the skiff.  (We are not publishing the exact location at this time, due to reasons stated below.)

Vessel ID: MG3-38397
Date: June 1st 2014
Location: Humboldt Lagoons State Park, Humboldt County, Ca. 

Another skiff washed ashore in Washington state with the same "MG3-" prefix on the hull, which was said to be from Miyagi Prefecture, north of Fukushima.

So, other than it possibly being a tangible reminder of one of the most tragic tsunamis of our time, who cares about an old boat on the beach?

These vessels may pose a serious financial and ecological threat to local fisheries and harbors due to the potential for very, very expensive boat cooties.

With the current pulse of Japanese tsunami-related debris bringing boats to the west coast of North America almost daily, speculation abounds about if or when Humboldt county will see its share of the action.

And if so, what kind of critters are attached to these vessels? 

These so-called "tsunami boats" are thought to have been washed directly off the beaches where they were normally parked, have always been found upside down. Whether or not this specific boat is of Japanese origin has yet to be determined.

If you find an exotic-looking boat on Humboldt shores, experts urge you to report it to NOAA and ask that you do not remove the boat from the beach. 

And while species do migrate in strange ways, the scope and scale of this transpacific migration is wholly unnatural, say biologists. For instance: these organisms are traveling en masse on a large flotilla of fiberglass boats, not random logs.

Population biologist Dr. John Chapman of the University of Oregon told KHUM's Coastal Currents that the likelihood of marine life surviving years adrift in the middle of the Pacific is akin to "a cow crossing the Mojave."

Coastal Currents John Chapman

But it happened. And tsunami debris predictions have been wrong before, so he's not taking anything for granted when it comes to invasive species.

"If you go to Humboldt Bay and look at any dock, you'll see these mussels growing around on the dock... . Those are our native mussels; they're called Mytilus trossulus. And then there's the mussel that's coming across from Asia called Mytilus galloprovincialis... .

...They have an internal commensal parasite, something that lives inside of them that we don't know anything about that we've found, that's never been seen here before, that could infect other kinds of bivalves. Bivalves are clams, mussels and oysters. So it could infect these other things. We're worried about that."

Further reading:

Tsunami Debris Handling Guidelines:

Derelict vessel or other large debris item

Examples: Adrift fishing boat, shipping containers

Contact your local authorities (a 911 call) and a state emergency response or environmental health agency to report the item. If the debris item is a potential hazard to navigation, immediately radio your nearest US Coast Guard Sector Command Center via VHF-FM Ch. 16 or 2182 MHz or notify the US Coast Guard Pacific Area Command at 510-437-3701. Do not attempt to move or remove the item.

And here's an RT piece with Dr. Chapman:

“The answer is ‘yes,’ there is a real threat,” John Chapman of the Oregon State University’s Marine Bioinvasion Lab told RT in an interview, noting that well over 150 marine species have arrived on the coast over the last year. “These [creatures] have the potential to invade local habitats.”

Already, scientists and researchers have pinpointed a number of potentially hazardous arrivals.

According to marine biologist Steve Rumrill, of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), two species discovered in the state were on the Global Invasive Species Database’s list of the world’s 100 worst invaders: Wakame, a seaweed native to Japan that began reproducing as soon as it arrived in America, and the Northern Pacific seastar, which he described as a voracious predator that could decimate local shellfish populations.

LA Times:

Australian officials have been battling the introduction of the Northern Pacific star fish, or Asterias amurensis, in Tasmania for years. “If the Australians could push a button and kill them all, they would do it. They’d push on top of each other to do it,” Chapman said.

Guess what scientists found on the Japanese dock?

The Northcoast Environmental Center has been surveying sites at Samoa Beach and Point St. George quarterly since last year and is continuing to do so through 2014. Dates for the next one will be announced soon on the NEC's website and Facebook page. Additionally, Coastal Programs Director (and LoCO contributor) Jennifer Savage partnered with NOAA in 2012 to do monthly baseline monitoring near the Ma-l'el Dunes on the beach adjacent to the Samoa State Marine Conservation Area. 

Says Savage:

"Unfortunately trash on our coast is a regular occurrence, so we're keeping track of the usual litter versus that which could be tsunami-generated – it should be noted that the amount of debris washed into the ocean from the horrific Tohoko earthquake and resultant tsunami is the same as what we regularly dump into the ocean daily. Although we haven't had as much debris land on our local beaches as originally anticipated, we were alerted to the pulse of skiffs washing up last month and have been alert to more potentially landing. The threat of invasive species is a serious one, so we urge people to report any findings immediately." 

 

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