The Coast Guard spotted a large dock that has washed ashore in a remote section of Olympic National Park on the northwest Washington coast. Scientists are concerned it could be debris from the tsunami that struck Japan last year.
Federal, state and tribal agencies were working together to reach the site and evaluate the dock for any potential invasive aquatic species that might be aboard, said Dave Workman of the Washington state Marine Debris Task Force. They also want to conclusively determine the dock's origin.
It's not yet clear whether the dock is part of debris from Japan's March 2011 tsunami, Workman said Tuesday evening. The object is similar to a large dock that beached in Oregon over the summer.
The Coast Guard had been looking for the dock since a fishing vessel spotted it adrift in the Pacific Ocean last Friday. It washed ashore between LaPush and the mouth of the Hoh River.
"The Coast Guard was out in challenging conditions looking for a needle in a haystack and they found it," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement.
A scientist studying tsunami debris from Japan believes the newly arrived dock may be one of four pieces from the fishing port of Misawa, Terry Egan, tsunami marine debris lead for Washington state, said this week. One of those pieces turned up at Newport, Ore., in June.
The National Park Service has closed the wilderness beach in the area until further information is known about any risks associated with the dock.
Olympic National Park protects over 70 miles of wild Pacific coast. Much of the coastline, including the dock's location, was designated by Congress as wilderness in 1988.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program has been leading efforts to collect data, assess debris and reduce possible impacts to coastal communities and natural resources.
The Japanese government estimated that the March 11, 2011, tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific. Most of that sank immediately, while 1.5 million tons were dispersed across the North Pacific.
NOAA estimates the bulk of what is coming either has arrived or will in the next year or so — but that's a rough guess.
NOAA has received about 1,400 debris reports in the past year, including bottles and buoys. Of those reports, 17 have been confirmed as definite tsunami debris, including a 20-foot boat, pieces of which were recovered earlier this month in Hawaii.