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Scientists Find Japanese Writing, Invasives On Likely Tsunami Debris Dock

A reconnaissance team on the Washington coast has finally reached a large dock that washed ashore on an Olympic Peninsula beach early this week. The team found Japanese writing and Asian barnacles on the hollow concrete dock. That strongly suggests the hulk drifted across the ocean after last year's tsunami in Japan.

National Park Service ecologist Steven Fradkin says the dock is now being battered and punctured by heavy surf, but could potentially still be towed away in the New Year.

"We have been led to believe that it is still ... seaworthy. In between the two holds there is a fair amount of Styrofoam flotation. So it still floats," Fradkin says.

Fradkin says no decisions have been reached about how to remove the very big dock from its resting place on a pristine national park beach. Another biologist attached a tracking beacon to the dock just in case it floats away by itself. Meanwhile, a marine biologist on the research team found invasive species clinging to the dock. Oregon State University Professor Jessica Miller says the dock is being pounded and "sandblasted" by high surf.

"It's clear that a large amount of the biomass has been removed and released into Washington coastal waters. There's a high likelihood that those were all smashed to bits and pieces in the process which would obviously reduce the risk that they could establish (here)," Miller says.

Miller also examined a very similar floating concrete dock that beached near Newport, Oregon last June. She says that piece of tsunami debris was much more heavily encrusted by Asian marine life when she got to it compared to this one.

The National Park Service has not yet decided whether to try to decontaminate the new Japanese dock remnant. Unfavorable tides will prevent further access to the remote location until the New Year.

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.