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Lull Or Tail End Of Japanese Tsunami Debris?

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network

LONG BEACH, Wash. – It’s been more than four months since the last confirmed piece of Japanese tsunami debris washed ashore on the Pacific Northwest coast. Even sightings of suspected disaster debris have tapered way off in recent months. Does that mean we’re just in a lull or past the worst of it?

Taking advantage of a break in the weather to do a little bit of beachcombing, I’ve come to Long Beach in southwest Washington. I’m keeping my eyes peeled as I walk the high tide line here for trash, especially anything that might be related to last year’s terrible Japanese tsunami. To my surprise, I’m not seeing much flotsam of any kind.

Chuck Matthews of Washington’s Department of Ecology has also been out here looking for the same things.

“Rangers that we speak with – folks that are out here every day – have been commenting to me for a couple of months that the beaches are looking really clean," Matthews says. "It’s a good development.”

With all these storms that we’ve had in the last few weeks -- just one after another, with high winds too -- you would think if there was debris out to sea, it would wash ashore around now.

“We are not getting reports of sightings, either aerial or at-sea reports, of any sort of large flotilla of debris that is heading this way," Matthews adds. "We don’t have a reason to kind of gear up for that at this moment. But we’re also prepared should we see something occur."

But is this a lull or are we out of the woods?

Matthews isn't assuming anything. "We’re at the early part of the storm season. Unfortunately, nobody has a crystal ball that can tell us what’s in the future.”

We’re hearing the same thing from the Oregon State Parks Department, that is, few if any detections of likely tsunami debris. But volunteer groups -- which are really carrying the load of keeping the beaches clean -- are not letting down their guard and have scheduled beach cleanup days for next year.

On the Web:

Model of tsunami debris distribution (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Marine debris on Washington beaches (Washington State Department of Ecology)

Report unusual or potentially hazardous marine debris to these hotlines:
Washington State: 1-855-WACOAST
Oregon: 2-1-1

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.