Tsunami debris team reaches dock on remote Olympic beach

FORKS — Hiking over primitive coastal trails, a team reached a dock that apparently floated from Japan after last year’s tsunami and just washed ashore on a Washington beach, and an official said the group found Japanese writing inside the structure.

The team of tsunami debris experts is trying to confirm that the dock is from Japan and drifted for more than a year before winding up on one of the most remote beaches on the U.S. West Coast.

The team did not find an identifying plaque like the one found on a dock that washed ashore last June at Newport, Ore., said Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the state Ecology Department. That dock was confirmed as debris from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami.

The writing and fresh photos are being shared with the Japanese consulate in an effort to confirm this dock as tsunami debris, the spokeswoman said.

The debris team took live samples of potentially invasive species for lab analysis, inspected five dock surfaces and attached a tracking beacon. The crew also took samples to check for any radioactivity, although state Health Department experts consider that highly unlikely, Schmanke said.

The dock was spotted Tuesday by the Coast Guard on Washington’s rugged Olympic Peninsula. The site is about five miles from the nearest road. On Thursday, a swollen stream blocked the debris team from reaching the dock.

The Washington dock is believed to be similar to the 165-ton concrete and steel dock that washed ashore at Newport.

Looking like a railroad boxcar, it was 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and 7 feet high. A plaque identified it as one of four owned by Aomori Prefecture that broke loose from the port of Misawa during the tsunami.

Volunteers scraped off 2 tons of seaweed and creatures that were clinging to the Newport dock. Among them were four species — a seaweed, a sea star, a mussel and a shore crab — that are native to Japan and have established themselves as invasive species elsewhere, said Caren Braby, manager of marine resources for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Officials won’t know for a couple years whether any of them escaped to get a foothold in Oregon, she said. The scrapings were buried above the high water line. The dock was sterilized with torches, then cut up and removed last summer.

Photos taken Friday will be used to help develop a plan to remove the latest dock from the Washington beach, Schmanke said. No schedule has been set for removal.

As of Dec. 13, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had received 1,432 debris reports, of which 17 have been confirmed as tsunami origin.

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