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Tsunami Debris

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 09 October 2012

Since the Japanese tsunami 1.5 million tonnes of debris has been floating across the Pacific towards the West coast of North America. Despite predictions that it wouldn't hit land until 2013 ,some material including a ship and a 66 foot dock have already beached - far earlier than expected. The dock itself - which landed in Newport, Oregon was covered in living creatures, including invasive species which could threaten native species and fisheries. It's also feared the debris could endanger wildlife that becomes entangled in or consumes it. As winter storms approach a new cluster of debris is expected. Tom Heap investigates what's being done to track it, what danger it poses, how it's being cleaned up and, in some cases, how possessions are being returned to their owners 5000 miles away.

  • Tsunami dock

    Tsunami dock

    A 200 tonne dock from Japan covered in living, breeding species came ashore in Newport, Oregon. It was traced as being from Misawa. Picture courtesy Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

  • Debris watch

    Debris watch

    Visitors to the beaches are alerted to possible tsunami debris.

  • Beach clean

    Beach clean

    Oregon parks officers and volunteer groups help to clean the beaches in Oregon.

  • Clearing debris

    Clearing debris

    Volunteers in action at Yaquina Bay

  • Drop-offs


    Chris Havel of Oregon State Parks and Recreation inspects one of the coastal drop-off points for debris.

  • Japanese writing

    Japanese writing

    This water bottle inscribed with Japanese writing has washed across the Pacific.

  • Dr John Chapman

    Dr John Chapman

    Invasion Ecologist Dr John Chapman stands among the frozen samples they took from the dock.

  • Dangerous species

    Dangerous species

    These Japanese seastars were discovered on the dock and have been found to eat many species on the sea floor, including each other.

  • Asian shore crab

    Asian shore crab

    The Asian shore crab (hemigrapsus sanguineus)is another of the invasive species scientists are concerned about.

  • Brown seaweed

    Brown seaweed

    Brown seaweed undaria pinnatifida is used for making miso soup. Picture courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

  • Cleaning the dock

    Cleaning the dock

    Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife crews scraped all remaining biological material off the dock by hand.
    Picture courtesy of Oregon Parks and recreation Department.

  • Sterilising


    Weed torches were used to sterilise the dock. Picture courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

  • Burying the remains.

    Burying the remains.

    The exotic plants and animals were coated in chlorine and buried to kill them. Picture courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.


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