Dock from Japanese tsunami washes up on Oregon shore

By Chelsea Whyte on June 8, 2012 4:48 PM EDT

dock
A 70-foot dock, set loose upon the Pacific by the 2011 Japanese tsunami, washed ashore in Oregon. (Photo: EPA/Oregon Department of Parks)

A surprising vessel has washed ashore on Oregon's coastline. A 70-foot-long floating dock that originated in Japan broke free from its mooring during last year's tsunami and trekked across the Pacific Ocean, landing at Agate Beach outside Newport, Oregon and bringing with it a host of marine life.

A commemorative plaque on the dock showed it was one of four owned by Aomori Prefecture that broke loose from the port of Misawa on the northern tip of the main island, said the Portland Deputy Consul Hirofumi Murabayashi, reports the Associated Press.

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"This is tsunami debris, not just from Japan, but from the tsunami itself," said Chris Havel of the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, according to AP.

Hundreds of millions of tsunami survivors - in the forms of snails, starfish, sea urchins, barnacles and algae - caught a ride on the 165 ton dock, leading some scientists to worry that some of them could be invasive species that may threaten west coast marine life.

"This float is an island unlike any transoceanic debris we have ever seen," said John Chapman, an OSU marine invasive species specialist. The cement float contains about 13 pounds of organisms per square foot.

"Drifting boats lack such dense fouling communities, and few of these species are already on this coast," Chapman said. "Nearly all of the species we've looked at were established on the float before the tsunami; few came after it was at sea."

Chapman said it was "mind-boggling" how these organisms survived the 5,000-mile trek across the Pacific Ocean. The low productivity of open-ocean waters should have starved at least some of the organisms, he said.

Invasive marine species are a problem on the West Coast, where they usually are introduced via ballast water from ships. Chapman says the coastline is vulnerable, citing a new species introduced each year in Yaquina Bay, just two miles away from the dock's landing site.  

A new species introduced into an environment has few natural predators and can quickly take over, out-competing native plants and animals that call the area home.

"We hope that none of these species we are finding on this float will be among the new [invasive species] discoveries in years to come," Chapman said.

Bystanders who saw the giant piece of debris floating towards the Oregon coast initially mistook it for a barge, reports The Telegraph. Once the dock hit the beach, curious visitors came by for a look, some of whom left flowers in memory of the Japanese victims.

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