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Gawkers Welcome, Invasive Species Not, Around Tsunami Debris Dock

Tom Banse


NEWPORT, Ore. – Park rangers and volunteers worked quickly Thursday to defuse an invasive species time bomb that washed up near Newport, Oregon. They scraped off and sterilized a huge boat dock that was set adrift by last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan.

At low tide, about a dozen Oregon state workers and volunteers set upon the derelict dock with rakes, shovels and scrapers. The surprise arrival from Japan came draped with seaweed, mussels and barnacles, some of which are found only in Japanese waters. Marine biologists identified one type of seaweed in particular – wakame - as most unwelcome, according to Chris Havel of Oregon State Parks.

“It’s an invasive species in southern California right now. It’s not present in Oregon until this dock arrived. So they jumped on it immediately and said, ‘Let’s get everything scraped up, bagged up, and do what we can," Havel says.

Havel says the containment crew next seared the sides of stranded hulk with torches to make sure no exotic flora survives. Then a backhoe dug what you might call a mass grave above the high tide line for invasive species. Havel watched as the marine hitchhikers disappeared under six feet of sand.

“I think that problem is as controlled as it can be right now,” Havel says.

Meanwhile, curiosity seekers from far and wide have been streaming down to the beach to get a look at the exotic flotsam and the emergency response. Michael Norman of Seattle stopped for a look with his family.

“I think it’s pretty amazing that it made it all the way across the ocean to get here. As far as it being a hazard, they probably need to move it eventually,” Norman says.

As for idea for what comes next?

“Hah! No, I don’t have any idea. It looks pretty stuck,” Norman says.

The tide of gawkers leave locals like Mary Sauer in no hurry to seek the derelict dock towed away.

“We live here in Newport and I think it will bring a lot of tourists. I think that as long as they get all of the bad stuff off of it, I think it should be fine. I think it is a great attraction,” Sauer says.

Oregon State Parks is determined to remove the dock ASAP. The agency’s Chris Havel says the current preferred option is to tow the dock to the nearby Port of Newport.

“Could it be repaired, put it back into service? It is a valuable piece of equipment. So maybe that’s the way it will go,” says Havel.

Havel says if the dock proves unseaworthy on closer examination, the other obvious option is to chop it up on scene. He says the Japanese have sent word that they don’t want this attention-getting tsunami debris back.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network