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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Japanese Dock Lost in 2011 Tsunami Removed from Washington’s Olympic Coast

March 19, 2013 -- Workers dismantling the dock from Misawa, Japan, which washed up on Washington's Olympic Coast. (National Park Service/John Gussman)

March 19, 2013 — Workers dismantling the dock from Misawa, Japan, which washed up on Washington’s Olympic Coast in December of 2012. (National Park Service/John Gussman)

A large Japanese dock swept across the Pacific Ocean after the March 2011 tsunami has now been removed from Washington’s Olympic Coast. Cleanup workers from the Washington-based contractor, The Undersea Company, carried off the last of the now-deconstructed dock’s concrete and plastic foam from the beach where it washed ashore.

Removal work, which occurred inside Olympic National Park and NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, began on March 17 and concluded March 25, 2013. You can watch a time-lapse video of the dock’s removal (and related videos):

“This operation was challenging—imagine opening up a 185-ton concrete package filled with foam packing peanuts while standing near a helicopter on an extremely remote coastline,” said John Nesset, president and C.E.O. of The Undersea Company, in a NOAA press release.

March 19, 2013 -- Crews remove foam blocks from a cut-open section of the Japanese floating dock, which beached inside both a national park and national marine sanctuary. (National Park Service/John Gussman)

March 19, 2013 — Crews remove foam blocks from a cut-open section of the Japanese floating dock, which beached inside both a national park and national marine sanctuary. (National Park Service/John Gussman)

The dock, weighing 185 tons and measuring 65 feet in length, initially stranded on the Washington coast last December after it and two other docks were torn away from the Port of Misawa, Japan, during the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

In previous posts, NOAA mentioned that this dock and the one found near Newport, Ore., in June of 2012 were among four docks washed away from Misawa—but we are told that only three docks left the port. The Consulate-General of Japan has alerted us that “earlier news reports erroneously stated that a fourth dock was located on an island in Japan.”

The NOAA Marine Debris Blog expands further on the whereabouts of the docks:

“According to the Consulate-General of Japan, three of the four floating docks located at the Misawa Fishing Port washed away when the tsunami struck. Fishermen reportedly spotted the third missing dock floating near Oahu, north of Molokai, in Hawaii in September. It has not been located since.”

An interesting aspect is that these three docks were wrenched away from the same port in Japan at the same time during the tsunami in March of 2011. Yet, as NOAA oceanographers know quite well, predicting where the Pacific Ocean’s currents and winds might carry and eventually deposit them (and when) is a tricky task.

March 18, 2013 -- The remoteness of the location where the Japanese dock beached required a helicopter to lift loads of foam taken out of the inside of the deconstructed dock. (National Park Service/John Gussman)

March 18, 2013 — The remoteness of the location where the Japanese dock beached required a helicopter to lift loads of foam taken out of the inside of the deconstructed dock. (National Park Service/John Gussman)

So far, “one washed up on Oregon’s coast last summer, and a second beached along Washington’s coastline in December,” pointed out Asma Mahdi of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. “Two identical debris pieces that left Japan’s coast at the same time made the journey across the Pacific, but they ended up on the U.S. West Coast six months apart and in very different locations. How can we predict where marine debris will end up?”

You can gather some insight into these complexities in the latest Diving Deeper podcast from the National Ocean Service.

Sherry Lippiatt, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s California Regional Coordinator, discusses how objects in the ocean are navigating a dynamic environment, which can affect everything from a plastic bottle to a floating dock.

Listen to the podcast here:


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Podcast: Eyes on the Scene of the Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill

In today’s Making Waves Podcast, the National Ocean Service looks back at NOAA’s role in the Deepwater Horizon spill response—the months when oil was spilling into the Gulf—through the eyes of one of the first NOAA responders to the spill. Debbie Payton, chief of the Office of Response and Restoration’s (OR&R) Emergency Response Division, joins in on this reflection of how thousands of NOAA staff plunged their efforts into the oily Gulf waters one year ago.

Put your ear to the podcast here:

The main job of OR&R’s Emergency Response Division during an oil or chemical spill is to give solid science to the decision makers, usually the U.S. Coast Guard, who need that information to keep harmful effects on people and planet as low as possible.

What could this scientific support look like during an emergency? It could mean figuring out the chemical make-up of whatever was spilled (for example, is it thick and heavy crude oil or light and thinly spread out diesel?) and what threats it might pose to people, plants, and wildlife. This helps answer important questions about things like seafood safety, public health, and marine mammal protection.

Striped Dolphins
Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) observed in emulsified oil in the Gulf of Mexico on April 29, 2010. Credit: NOAA.

Debbie Payton: “Those are all pieces of what NOAA does. The science support is gathering all that information, all that information coming from not only federal scientists, but other scientists as well, and trying to put that into a cohesive information that the Coast Guard, who’s helping to direct the response, can use to answer specific questions: where is the oil going, what’s it going to look like when it gets there, what’s the threat to birds or turtles, or other resources, and how can we best clean it up.”

For the latest updates on what’s going on in the Gulf, keep tabs on Gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov. And if you just can’t get enough about NOAA’s role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, head over to the Office of Response and Restoration Deepwater Horizon Incident page.