NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution


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Small Japanese Boat Found near Vancouver Island, Canada, Even as Summer Currents Hold Marine Debris at Bay for now

Small boat on rocky shore.

The small boat which washed up on remote Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada, was positively identified as a vessel lost during the 2011 Japan tsunami. Credit: Kevin Head.

On remote Spring Island, northwest of Vancouver Island, Canada, a small boat inscribed with Japanese characters washed up with the tide this summer. A Canadian provincial official has confirmed this boat was lost during the 2011 Japan tsunami. Emergency Management British Columbia matched the serial number on the boat’s hull with one on the Japanese consulate’s list of vessels lost due to the tsunami. Eric Gorbman, who owns a nearby resort, and Kevin Head found and reported the boat on August 9, 2012.

A Summer Decrease in Debris

While this brings the total number of confirmed tsunami debris sightings to 11, summer weather patterns have created a lull in debris turning up on nearby Washington’s coast. This has the state Department of Ecology taking back some of the additional trash receptacles they provided near public access points earlier this summer. Recent decreases in reported marine debris in these areas, along with reports of someone using them to dump household waste, led to the removal.

“We want to ensure we are stretching our dollars as far as we can,” said Peter Lyon, a Washington Department of Ecology regional manager. “In June, when the boxes were placed along beaches, a southwest wind pattern directed more debris ashore in those areas than we are seeing now. When weather patterns shift again in the fall, we are likely to see higher amounts of debris again. So we want to conserve our resources in case that happens.”

The Washington Department of Ecology states that the trash bins can be easily and quickly redeployed within about 24 hours to accommodate possible increases in marine debris in the future. The funding to stock the bins and litter bags came from Department of Ecology’s litter account, setting aside $100,000 to deal with marine debris. These supplies help support community and volunteer efforts to collect and dispose of debris on Washington beaches.

Where Is the Debris Now?

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration has oceanographers Glen Watabayashi and Amy MacFadyen using our GNOME model to give us an understanding of where debris from the tsunami may be located today. GNOME is a software modeling tool used to predict the possible route pollutants might follow in a body of water, and we use it most frequently during an oil spill.

Our oceanographers are incorporating into this model how the winds and ocean currents since the tsunami may have moved items through the Pacific Ocean. However, rather than forecasting when debris will reach U.S. shores in the future, this model uses data from past winds and currents to show possible patterns of where debris may be concentrated right now.

“For me the story is not what’s been found but what hasn’t been found,” said NOAA oceanographer Glen Watabayashi. “With all the summer vessel traffic along the West Coast and out in the North Pacific, there have been no reports of any large concentrations of debris.”

Learn more at http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/.


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A Canadian Sailing Race Gets Rigged by the Gulf of Mexico

A couple weeks ago I wrote about getting ready for my adventure sailing in the Van Isle 360 race around Vancouver Island, Canada, and I mentioned that the sailing race followed the “inside passage” to Alaska. While sailing northwest along this passage between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, I saw a lot of fishing boats, cruise ships, and barges, and one leg of the race was even delayed for a bit because a tugboat towing a large raft of logs blocked part of the starting line. I would expect to see those sorts of things while on the water in the Pacific Northwest.

What I didn’t expect to see was a Gulf Coast oil rig loaded on the deck of a specialized heavy lift ship in the port of Nanaimo, Canada! I guess it was too much to ask for a complete vacation from work.

A drilling rig owned by Escopeta Oil being transported between the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The Gulf of Mexico oil rig being transported between Texas and Alaska, via Nanaimo, Canada. Credit: Doug Helton.

This is a “jack-up” rig, designed to drill in relatively shallow waters. The legs extend down like an old fashioned tire jack, but the legs are only 150 feet or so long. Most of the waters in British Columbia are much deeper than the Gulf of Mexico, and I wasn’t aware of any active oil exploration in this region. So I wondered, Why was it here? Where was it going?

Two weeks later when I was back in Nanaimo, the ship was gone, but the rig was tied up to the pier.

When I got back to the NOAA offices in Seattle, I did a little research and found out that the Chinese heavy-lift vessel Kang Sheng Kou was passing through British Columbia en route to Cook Inlet, Alaska. The ship had stopped in Nanaimo to repair damage during its two-month voyage from Texas. Too wide to transit the Panama Canal, the ship had to go around South America.

The ship had initially called on Prince Rupert, near the Alaska border, but that town lacked the necessary repair facilities. The ship then tried to go to the Port of Vancouver, but the rig was too tall to clear the Lion’s Gate Bridge, so the ship ended up in Nanaimo.

The rig was a reminder that we have a global economy that’s always moving, and we need to be on stand-by, even when I’m trying to get away—literally, away in a sailboat—from work.


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Sailing the Sea on World Oceans Day

Here's Blue, the Olson 911SE yacht I'll be sailing around Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit: VanIsle360.com

Here's Blue, the Olson 911SE yacht I'll be sailing around Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit: VanIsle360.com

June 8 is World Oceans Day. How will you be celebrating? Starting Saturday, June 4, I am participating in Van Isle 360, a sailing race around Vancouver Island, Canada. The 580-nautical-mile race (667.5 miles on land) stops in 10 communities around Vancouver Island. The race starts and ends in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and will take about two weeks. I’m sailing on the nearly 30-foot-long yacht Blue, and we’ll have a satellite transponder so you can track how I’m doing during the race at http://www.vanisle360.com/.

On World Oceans Day, in particular, I’ll be racing from Hardwicke Island to Telegraph Cove. There is not much of a town at Hardwicke Island, but we’ll tie up for the night at a salmon processing plant. The town of Telegraph Cove, population 20, is near the northern end of Vancouver Island, and much of the town is built on stilts, with buildings raised above the water on pilings and linked by historic wooden boardwalks. Even when I am ashore that night I will still be surrounded by water.

Vancouver Island and the route I'll be taking through Johnstone Strait. Credit: Google Maps.

Vancouver Island and the route I'll be taking through Johnstone Strait. Credit: Google Maps.

Johnstone Strait, along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, is also famous for wildlife, and hopefully we’ll see whales during the day.

Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver (which is actually not located on Vancouver Island) are named for Captain George Vancouver, the captain of the 1792 British expedition that explored this region. He is also known for developing the first nautical charts of the region, such as this one of Vancouver Island. While I’m thankful for his work, I’m glad I’ll have up-to-date charts on the boat.

So what is the connection to my work on oil spills and this blog? For one thing, even though this is a remote part of Canada, it is very much part of our marine transportation system between the lower 48 states and Alaska. The race follows the “inside passage” between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, which is the route that cruise ships and commercial vessels take to avoid the rougher open ocean route on the outer edge of the island. That means I’ll be sharing the “road” with big ships as they travel through the same maze of islands I’ll be navigating.

I’m also hoping all those oceanography skills we use to forecast how oil drifts with tides and winds will come in handy when trying to sail through some of the toughest tidal currents in the world. The currents at Seymour Narrows near Campbell River, British Columbia, can exceed 15 knots—that is 17 miles per hour!

Keep an eye on this blog because I’ll try to upload some pictures and updates here during the race. Let me know in the comments how you hope to be celebrating the ocean on World Oceans Day, whether you’ll be sailing in a remote corner of the sea or showing your appreciation thousands of miles from the ocean.

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