Request for proposals: ocean contaminants, marine debris

Oregon Sea Grant is soliciting research proposals for one-year grants on two topics of high priority to Oregon’s ocean and coast: Water contaminants, and tsunami-related marine debris. The submission deadline is 5 pm Nov. 5, 2012.

Sea Grant  and its citizen advisory council have identified contaminants in Oregon waters – both ocean and freshwater – as an important research issue for the state. The recent and anticipated arrival of marine debris from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami also raises timely research and public engagement questions. As a result, Sea Grant has set aside funding for between one and  four single-year grant proposals addressing either of these issues. The total available funding is $80,000.

This special funding call seeks proposals that apply the best science and an innovative approach to address either: 1) a well-defined coastal or watershed research question addressing contaminants, or 2) research related to tsunami marine debris.

All Oregon Sea Grant research grants must include public outreach and engagement components.

For more information, visit our Website.

Fragment of Japanese dock to anchor tsunami interpretive trail at HMSC

NEWPORT, Ore. – A section from a huge dock that ripped loose from its moorings in the northern Japanese city of Misawa during the massive earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011 will become part of an exhibit at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, just a few miles from where it washed ashore in early June of this year.

The dock, which became an instant tourist attraction for several weeks, has since been dismantled. But a piece of the huge structure has been saved and will be on display at the HMSC by early next year.

The City of Newport is providing initial funding for the project and Mayor Mark McConnell hopes donations will fill the gaps. When finished, the dock section will be mounted outside of the HMSC Visitor Center, accompanied by educational signage as well as a memorial plaque. The exhibit is being developed by Oregon Sea Grant, which manages the Visitor Center, and will serve as the start of an eventual interpretive trail built along the tsunami evacuation route from the OSU center to higher ground.

“That would certainly be fitting,” said McConnell, who visited Sendai, Japan, last summer. “The devastation we saw in Japan was incredible. You realize when you see it first-hand that you can’t plan or build for an event of that magnitude, but you can prepare for it by educating yourself about the risks and creating strategies for safe evacuation.

“The exhibit will be a reminder that the tragedy in Japan could just as easily happen here,” he added.

Shawn Rowe, an OSU free-choice learning specialist based at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, said the focus of the planned exhibit’s educational effort will be on tsunami awareness, the risk of invasive species from the tsunami debris, and how the dock got here in the first place.

“It is a good opportunity to broaden public awareness about such issues,” said Rowe, who works for Oregon Sea Grant. “This was a unique event. Certainly, materials float over from Japan quite often. But rarely, if ever, have we seen a confluence of circumstances that led to the dock arriving in Newport, Ore.”

Fishing floats, logs and debris arrive on the West Coast from Asia with some regularity, but rarely does a structure this large that had been anchored for years in an inlet in Japan – and thus accumulating local seaweeds and organisms – rip loose and journey across the ocean.

“What was surprising to us is that so many of the plants and animals that were attached to the dock survived the 15-month journey across the Pacific Ocean,” said Jessica Miller, an OSU marine ecologist who has studied the dozens of plant and animal species on the dock. “What we don’t yet know is whether these species have established themselves in local waters with the potential to become invasive.”

Mark Farley, who manages the HMSC Visitor Center for Sea Grant, said the dock section will be delivered to Newport in the next few weeks, and work on the foundation for the display and signage will continue into the early part of 2013.

“Our hope is to have the exhibit open to the public by the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami next March,” Farley said.

For more information on donating to the Japanese dock exhibit at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, visit the HMSC Visitor Center website , or call Mark Farley at 541-867-0276.

Students invited to submit posters for the 2012 Heceta Head Coastal Conference

Oregon’s Ocean: Bringing the High Seas Home

FLORENCE – The 2012 Heceta Head Coastal Conference brings current ocean science and policy to Oregonians.  Attendees include university scientists, ocean policy agency staff, politicians, students, and the general public.  The conference is co-sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant.

The Pacific Ocean is a dynamic place full of activity and motion.  This year highlights the science of things that float, swim, drift, stowaway, steam, and bob across the Pacific to Oregon’s Ocean.

What to expect: The student poster session is part of a full day program (Saturday, October 27).

A dedicated session allows conference attendees to view posters and interact with student scientists as they explain their research and results.

Why submit a poster?

  • Showcase your research
  • Gain professional experience
  • Practice science communication with a broad audience
  • Interact with researchers, decision makers, industry leaders, stakeholders, and other    students
  • Awards for top posters (and prizes)!

Submitting a poster: The HHCC invites contributions from advanced undergraduates (juniors or seniors), recent graduates, and graduate students.

The poster submission deadline is September 30. Download the .pdf announcement for details.

For more information on the conference, visit

Volunteers sought for tsunami debris monitoring, cleanup

The new Oregon Marine Debris Team is looking for hundreds of coastal volunteers to keep an eye out for debris from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami – and to help clean it up.

The team, a partnership of Oregon Sea Grant and four nonprofit groups – CoastWatch, Surfrider Foundation, SOLVE and Washed Ashore – is leading citizen-based efforts to systematically track and clean up tsunami debris that washes up on the Oregon Coast. Volunteers will be asked to systematically monitor, identify and report areas where tsunami debris accumulates, and to participate in cleanup efforts.

Interested coastal residents and visitors can sign up by subscribing to the team’s marine debris notification list and indicate their volunteer interests and geographic areas.

Public agencies, led by Oregon State Parks, have set up debris reporting hotlines, provided receptacles and will collect material too dangerous or bulky for volunteers to handle. The federal government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced Monday that it would provide $250,000 to the five western states likely to be affected by the tsunami debris (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii). However, at $50,000 per state, the grants are expected to cover only a small fraction of cleaning up however much of the estimated 1.5 million tons of debris drifting across the Pacific winds up on US coasts.

The debris was washed from the Japanese shore by the tsunami that followed the devastating earthquake that hit northern Japan on March 5, 2011, killing thousands and sweeping away an estimated 5 million tons of buildings, fishing vessels and personal belongings. Much of that sank off the Japanese coast – but buoyant items, from fragments of plastic and paper to stray boats and cargo containers, have been floating the Pacific currents ever since, and are beginning to show up on US coastlines.

The budget-strapped West Coast states lack the resources to clean up everything that arrives.The cost of removing the single largest piece of tsunami debris to hit Oregon to date – a large dock that washed ashore last month at Agate Beach on the central Coast – will run just over $84,000, according to Oregon Parks & Recreation, which has hired a contractor to remove and dispose of the dock starting July 30. A small piece will be kept as a memorial to the tsunami victims.

“Cleaning up our beaches relies upon all of us,” said Charlie Plybon, , Surfrider Foundation Oregon Field Manager. “The key to responding to this challenge … lies with educating and activating volunteers.”

The Oregon Marine Debris Team is hoping to recruit enough volunteers to monitor every beach, cove and headland for debris, and to be on call for cleanup alerts in given areas. “Agencies are not able to do that,” Plybon said. “It is up to us, the people who care for our coastline and take responsibility for it, to step up. Our role as nonprofits is to provide the support to make that happen.”

What to do if you find tsunami debris

The state of Oregon, in coordination with NOAA, Sea Grant and multiple coastal nonprofits, has a new list of resources for people who find – or who are interested in helping clean up – debris that might be associated with last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan.

Coastal residents and visitors are invited to pick up official beach cleanup bags from any state parks office on the coast, and fill them with whatever non-hazardous trash and debris they find when they’re on the beach.   Dozens of debris drop-off stations have been established on the coast, at many state parks and local waste transfer stations.

  • If you spot
    • Debris with living organisms on it
    • Debris that appears hazardous (oil or chemical drums, for instance)
    • Items too large for you to move
  • report it – with date, location, and photos if you can take them – to
  • Unusually large items, or those that pose a hazard to navigation, should be reported by calling 211 (or 1-800-SAFENET).
  • Items with markings that might trace them back to inviduals or groups in Japan, or that appear to have personal or monetary value, should be reported to either  211 (1-800-SAFENET) or so the state can can make appropriate arrangements to return the items.
  • You can also download a printable sheet of wallet-sized cards with this contact information on it.

If you’d like to volunteer to help report, collect or monitor the beaches for debris, you can sign up online with Surfrider, which will pass the information to the appropriate groups.

Oregon Sea Grant has joined with organizations such as Surfrider, SOLVE and CoastWatch to form the Oregon Marine Debris Team to assist with debris monitoring, identification, cleanup and public information.

Japanese dock carries potential invaders

ODFW workers clean marine organisms from Japanese dockAGATE BEACH – A large section of a dock, ripped from the Japanese shore by last year’s tsunami and washed up this week on the Oregon coast, brought with it  a host of potentially unwelcomed visitors.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center said the cement float contains about 13 pounds of organisms per square foot – an estimated 100 tons of wet plant and animal life. As of Thursday they had gathered living samples sample of multiple species of   barnacles, starfish, urchins, anemones, amphipods, worms, mussels, limpets, snails, solitary tunicates and algae – and there are dozens of species overall.

“This float is an island unlike any transoceanic debris we have ever seen,” said John Chapman, an OSU researcher who studies marine invasive species . “Drifting boats lack such dense fouling communities, and few of these species are already on this coast. Nearly all of the species we’ve looked at were established on the float before the tsunami; few came after it was at sea.”

Chapman said it was “mind-boggling” how these organisms survived their trek across the Pacific Ocean. The low productivity of open-ocean waters should have starved at least some of the organisms, he said.

“It is as if the float drifted over here by hugging the coasts, but that is of course impossible,” Chapman said. “Life on the open ocean, while drifting, may be more gentle for these organisms than we initially suspected. Invertebrates can survive for months without food and the most abundant algae species may not have had the normal compliment of herbivores. Still, it is surprising.”

Jessica Miller, an Oregon State University marine ecologist, said that a brown algae (Undaria pinnatifida), commonly called wakame, was present across most of the dock – and plainly stood out when she examined it in the fading evening light. She said the algae is native to the western Pacific Ocean in Asia, and has invaded several regions including southern California. The species identification was confirmed by OSU phycologist Gayle Hansen.

“To my knowledge it has not been reported north of Monterey, Calif., so this is something we need to watch out for,” Miller said.

Miller said the plan developed by the state through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Parks is to scrape the dock and to bag all of the biological material to minimize potential spread of non-native species. But there is no way of telling if any of the organisms that hitchhiked aboard the float from Japan have already disembarked in nearshore waters.

“We have no evidence so far that anything from this float has established on our shores,” said Chapman. “That will take time. However, we are vulnerable. One new introduced species is discovered in Yaquina Bay, only two miles away, every year. We hope that none of these species we are finding on this float will be among the new discoveries in years to come.”

Read the complete story from OSU News & Research Information

(Photo credit: OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport)

First confirmed tsunami debris hits Oregon shores

AGATE BEACH – A chunk of concrete and steel that washed ashore Tuesday on this central Oregon coastal beach has been confirmed as a floating dock swept off the coast of Japan by last year’s devastating tsunami.

It is the first confirmed landing of tsunami debris on the Oregon coast. Scientists and governments have been tracking debris in the 15 months since the disaster, and expecting items to begin making landfall on the West Coast this summer.

According to The Oregonian, a plaque on the 66-foot-long section of debris helped the Japanese Consulate in Portland identify it as a dock cut loose in Misawa, a northern Japanese city struck by the powerful tsunami waves on March 11, 2011.

“It’s one of four floating docks washed away by the tsunami, which means there are three more floating somewhere possibly,” said Hirofumi Murabayashi, deputy consul general. “In Oregon this is the first item obviously from the tsunami.”

The consul has turned the matter over to the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, which has jurisdiction over the beach, to determine what to do about the chunk of debris, which measures 66 feet long by 19 feet wide by 7 feet tall.

Read the entire story in The Oregonian

Sea Grant teams with state agencies to prepare for Japanese quake debris

Model of possible debris dispersal - image courtesy of NOAA

Model of possible debris dispersal (image courtesy of NOAA)

As the one-year anniversary of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami nears, Oregon Sea Grant is teaming with state and local agencies, non-governmental groups and marine scientists to prepare for the possible arrival of earthquake debris on Oregon shores.

In a conference call this week, the group heard that state and county leaders, OSU Extension and the Hatfield Marine Science Center are receiving growing numbers of  questions about the debris currently floating toward US coastlines, and began charting a communication strategy to help answer those questions.

OSU oceanographer Jack Barth, an expert in ocean currents, said the debris is still months away from making West Coast landfall, although  occasional buoyant items might move more quickly.  In October, a Russian ship discovered a small Japanese fishing boat in the waters north of Hawaii, and it was definitively tied to the tsunami, Barth said. “It was about where we thought it should be, given the currents.”

Many questions about the debris have to do with concerns that it might be radioactive, given the the incidents at Japan’s Dai-ichi nuclear plant that followed the earthquake. Kathryn Higley, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at OSU, said the lag time between the tsunami and the nuclear incident, coupled with the vastness of the ocean, makes it unlikely that the debris will pose any radioactive risk. The material has been tossed by wind and sea for months now, Higley said, and most traces of radioactive elements will have washed into the sea. “While we may be able to detect trace amounts of radioactive material on this debris, it’s really unlikely that there will be any substantial radiation risk,” she said.

Meanwhile, Oregon Sea Grant’s marine Extension specialists on the coast have been working with multiple public and private partners, from state and local governments to conservation and fishing industry groups, to map out a communication strategy for the debris landing.

Jamie Doyle, Sea Grant Extension specialist in in Coos and Curry counties, said one concern is what happens to personal effects that survive the ocean crossing and wind up on Oregon shores, where they may be found by beachcombers.

“A lot of people lost their lives, and many people still have family members who are missing,” Doyle said. “We need to be sensitive to the possibility of finding something that may be of personal significance to someone in Japan.”

The Seattle office of the Consulate General of Japan has asked that those who find something that could  be considered a personal keepsake or artifact report it to local authorities, or to  the consulate in Seattle at 206-682-9107.

Patrick Corcoran, Sea Grant’s Astoria-based Coastal Hazards specialist, said Oregon’s focus thus far has been on research and “building the capacity to respond” to the arrival of the debris. Specific information will be forthcoming, he said.

Learn more:


Debris from Japanese tsunami slowly making its way toward West Coast

Debris from Japanese tsunami floats in Pacific in mid MarchA massive trail of debris from the devastating tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 is slowly making its way across the Pacific Ocean en route to the West Coast of the United States, where scientists are predicting it will arrive in the next two to three years – right on schedule.

The mass of debris, weighing millions of tons and forming a trail a thousand miles long, will likely strike Oregon and Washington, according to models based on winds and currents.

But new accounts of where the trail has progressed suggest that at least some of that debris may peel off and enter the infamous “Garbage Patch,” a huge gyre in the Pacific where plastic and other debris has accumulated over the years, according to Jack Barth, an Oregon State University oceanographer and an expert on Pacific Ocean currents and winds.

“Recent reports of debris are from farther south than the axis of the main ocean currents sweeping across the north Pacific toward Oregon,” said Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “This means a fair amount of debris may enter the patch. We should still see some of the effects in Oregon and Washington, but between some of the materials sinking, and others joining the garbage patch, it might not be as bad as was originally thought.”

Read more from OSU News & Research Communications

(Photo courtesy of  US Pacific Fleet gallery on Flickr)

OSG beach publication solves a Great Lakes Mystery

Beach Ball illustrationWhen a Duluth man walked into the Minnesota Sea Grant office recently seeking help identifying a couple of weird-looking balls of of stuff he’d found on the shore of  Lake Superior,  science writer Sharon Moen found the answer from a sister program in Oregon.

An Internet search led her straight to Oregon Sea Grant and its free publication, “Flotsam, Jetsam, and Wrack.”

The balls found by Glenn Maxham,  about 2½ inches in diameter and made of grasses, twigs, a bird feather and degraded polymer mesh,  match a similar phenomenon found on the Oregon coast, where locals (and some tourist shops) have dubbed them “whale burps.”

They have nothing to do with whales; rather, it’s the action of waves and surf that gather loose natural (and unnatural) debris and roll it over the sand until it compacts into a ball. The preferred name is “beach balls” or “surf balls,” according to retired OSG marine educator Vicki Osis, who helped develop the publication. Similar phenomena have been reported in Egypt, Australia, and on the shores of California’s Little Borax Lake.

“Flotsam, Jetsam, and Wrack” is among some 150 publications available free for the downloading from Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University. Topics range from enjoying the beaches to building your own water-conserving rain garden, salmon restoration,wave energy, tsunami preparedness and safe seafood preparation. Most are available in both printable .pdf format and accessible plain-text versions.

The Oregon and Minnesota Sea Grant programs are among 30 Sea Grant college programs across the nation, organized under NOAA’s National Sea Grant program.  Affiliated with major universities in the nation’s coastal and Great Lakes states, the Sea Grant programs conduct marine research, education and public outreach that  foster science-based  use and conservation of the nation’s aquatic resources.