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Beach Debris Frequently Asked Questions
You can help
Live at the coast? Just visiting? You can help keep the beach clean by removing human-made debris that washes up. Everyone is talking about debris from the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, and we are seeing plenty of that material now, but the truth is debris lands on our shores all year long from every source imaginable. No matter where it came from, you have a chance to protect Oregon’s beaches.   What can you do to help? Depends on what you find: 
tsunami-volunteer-signup.jpg
 
Litter and other typical marine debris.

Examples: Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, buoys, Styrofoam.

If practical, we encourage you to remove small debris and recycle as much of it as possible. You can get an official beach cleanup bag from any coastal state park office. Don’t break up chunks of foam if you can help it, and tie your bag shut when full. Leave the bag near the parking lot garbage cans or trailhead if you can. If you can’t remove the debris from the beach by hand, please move it far enough away from the water so it doesn’t wash back out at high tide. If you see a significant amount of debris, or it is too large to move by hand, report it by email with the date, location and photos to beach.debris@state.or.us. If the debris has plants or animals growing on it, throw it away in a garbage can or landfill, or move it above the high tide line and report it.

Derelict vessel or other large debris item.
Examples: Adrift fishing boat, shipping containers.

Call 911 in an emergency. If the debris is a hazard to navigation, call 211 while you’re on the coast and you will be connected with the US Coast Guard. Do not attempt to move or remove vessels.

Mementos or possessions.
Examples: Items with unique identifiers, names, or markings.

If an item can 1) be traced back to an individual or group and 2) has personal or monetary value, call 211 while you're on the coast to report it or send an email to beach.debris@state.or.us so we can make arrangements to possibly return items to Japan.

Potentially hazardous materials.
Examples: Oil or chemical drums, gas cans, propane tanks.

Call 211 while you're on the coast and you will be connected to the US Coast Guard’s National Response Center. Report as much information as possible. Do not touch the item or attempt to move it.

There are more than a dozen disposal stations on the coast ready to accept your bagged tsunami debris. If you see debris larger than what you can put in a bag—tires, refrigerators, and so on—don’t bring it to the disposal station. Report its location by calling 211. 

Want more detail? Read on for Frequently Asked Questions related to the tsunami debris problem in general, and special questions on boating, and ecological effects.

Interesting links

Oregon Beach Debris Drop-Off Map
Debris photos from citizen reports
211 phone log


Oregon Beach Debris Drop-Offs

View Oregon Beach Debris Drop-Off Points in a larger map
Want more detail?
General FAQ
 

Q1. Why could we see more debris on Oregon’s beaches?
A. In March 2011, a tsunami struck the east coast of Japan and washed a large amount of debris into the Pacific Ocean. While it was easy to track with aircraft and satellites for the first few days, much of the debris—70% of it—soon sank. Some of the remaining debris sank later. Most of the material that is still floating will never reach land, but some of it has crossed the ocean blown by wind or carried by ocean currents and washed up on west coast beaches.

Q2. Where is the debris now?
A. It is challenging to tell, exactly. Some of it has already washed up on the west coast. Tracking the rest out at sea is difficult because the debris is spread out over an area several times the size of the United States. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is coordinating the effort to use satellites, aircraft and ocean-going vessels to locate debris.

Q3. Some of it has reached Oregon?
A. Yes, we're seeing rigid foam, plastic, sealed metal containers, construction lumber, even small fiberglass boats. While most of it will never reach the shore, and instead get trapped in a large, circular ocean current between the US mainland and Hawaii, every storm has the potential to bring more of it onshore. This has always been true of debris out in the ocean, so not all the debris is from the tsunami. Check out this website for the most updated model prediction: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/debris_model.html

Q4. How much tsunami debris are we seeing?
A. Telling tsunami debris apart from other kinds of marine debris isn’t easy. A piece of foam or plastic can really be from anywhere (it was a real problem even before the tsunami). The two annual beach cleanups—volunteers coordinated by SOLVE, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and other partners—regularly remove tons of human-made debris. The rest of the year, we usually gather up debris and throw it away with the rest of the refuse left by regular visitors. This mixing means we aren't exactly sure how much new debris we're seeing. We do know people are paying more attention to debris now, and that we used to get 5-10 reports a month from citizens concerned about debris, and that now we get 4-5 times that many by email and phone. Smaller beach cleanups happen all year long, and since 2012, organizations like Surfrider have held four times as many cleanups, collecting five times as much trash (details from a March 2013 Powerpoint). Some beaches, especially on the north coast, are seeing a larger-than-normal amount of small plastics bits along the wrack line (read related story in Daily Astorian newspaper). Ocean currents are fickle and complex, so some beaches have seen very little debris.

On the other hand, we've had a 180+ ton dock, no fewer than five 15-20' fiberglass boats, and two pieces of a sacred Shinto gate called a torii come ashore since June 2012.

Thousands of Oregonians have made it their family tradition to help keep beaches clean. Now that people are helping with beach cleanups all year long, we just need to keep a ready supply of debris bags on hand and drop-off points funded and open.

Q5. Is tsunami debris radioactive?
A. There is consensus among scientists that it is highly unlikely the debris from Japan is radioactive. The International Atomic Energy Agency began radiation monitoring after the tsunami and as of June 2013 no radioactive tsunami debris has been detected. NOAA is coordinating regular monitoring that will continue at least through 2013.

Local authorities have field-tested hundreds of items that have washed up on the coast and found no radioactive contamination. In some cases, a few items were sent to public health laboratories for more specific testing and again, no radioactive contamination was found.

It is possible very low levels of radiation from water leaking out of a damaged power plant in Japan will be detectable on the west coast. According to the science and health experts studying the issue, the amounts will be detectable, but will not affect our health. Read answers to frequently asked questions about radiation from Japan. The Surfrider Foundation also maintains a wiki on the topic.

Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division has constantly monitored beach samples for any higher-than-normal levels of radiation since 2011. Visit the Division's Radiation Protection Services  and check out their sand monitoring or jump straight to the data. 

Q6. What about toxins or hazardous liquids? Could the debris contain that?
A. Yes, and this has been the case for years. We already see barrels, bottles and other containers holding oil and other chemicals a couple times a year. For the proper way to report hazardous beach debris, please see Question 9 below.

Q7. So if it’s not radioactive, and no more or less hazardous than what we already see on the beach, how will tsunami debris be different?
A. We are seeing uncommon items like small fiberglass boats and large, plastic net floats. They pose a hazard to navigation, especially to small vessels. We are also detecting more construction wood, plastic, rigid foam, and lost fishing gear (photos). It is possible that items with cultural or personal importance will survive the cross-ocean trip, and we need to handle this property with respect in cooperation with Japanese authorities. If you find an  object that you think might be worth more than $100 or could be personal property, please turn it in to the nearest Oregon State Park office or local law enforcement, or keep it safe and call 211 to report it by phone, or send an immediate email with the date, location where found and a photo to beach.debris@state.or.us.

Q8. Is there a chance that human remains could be in debris that washes ashore?
A. On very rare occasions, human remains are discovered on the beach following known and unknown incidents, such as accidents and drownings. It is highly unlikely that any human remains associated with the Japan tsunami will be located in any debris. There are already processes in place to deal with human remains found on the beaches. Call 911 or any Oregon State Police dispatch command center.

Q9. So what do I do if I see debris on the beach?
A. Depends on what and where it is.

Litter and other typical marine debris.
Examples: Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, buoys, Styrofoam.

If practical, we encourage you to remove the debris and recycle as much of it as possible. Don’t break up rigid foam if you can help it, and tie your bag shut when full. Look for a sign near the parking lot as you head down to the beach that tells you where to leave debris bags after you fill them. If you can’t remove the debris from the beach yourself, please move it far enough away from the water so it doesn’t wash back out at high tide. Use your judgment. And if you see a significant amount of debris or anything you think might be related to the tsunami, send an email with the date, location and photos to beach.debris@state.or.us or call 211 while on the coast.

Exception for the south coast
Some areas of dry sand on the south coast are closed to protect nests for the threatened western snowy plover. Do not enter these marked closure areas. If marine debris becomes a problem there, government agencies will organize cleanups when it will be least harmful to the birds. Snowy plovers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Derelict vessel or other large debris item.
Examples: Adrift fishing boat, shipping containers.

Call 911 in an emergency. If the debris is a hazard to navigation, call 211 while on the coast and you will be connected with the US Coast Guard. Do not attempt to move or remove vessels.

Mementos or possessions.
Examples: Items with unique identifiers, names, or markings.

If an item can 1) be traced back to an individual or group and 2) has personal or monetary value, call 211 to report it or send an email at beach.debris@state.or.us so we can make appropriate arrangements for return of items to Japan.

Potential hazardous materials.
Examples: Oil or chemical drums, gas cans, propane tanks.

Call 211 and you will be connected to the US Coast Guard’s National Response Center. Report as much information as possible. Do not touch the item or attempt to move it.

Q10. So what’s Oregon doing to handle unusual amounts of debris?
A. A partnership of agencies and nonprofits are working with coordination help from Oregon Emergency Management and NOAA—the lead federal agency—to manage the increase in beach debris. By working together—SOLVE, Surfrider Foundation, Sea Grant, CoastWatch, Washed Ashore, US Coast Guard and other federal agencies, your local counties, cities and ports, and state departments of Environmental Quality, Parks, and Fish and Wildlife—we are all pitching in to collect debris and dispose of it through recycling and landfills.

Q11. Is there something more I can do now to help?
A. Sure is. Human-made debris on the beach is a constant problem. Work with the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition’s Coast Watch program, join the two annual beach clean-ups, or contact a coastal nonprofit like the Oregon chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Even without the possibility of extra debris, keeping beaches clean is a challenge Oregon can only meet with help from her citizens.

Q12. Where can I go for more information?
A. For Oregon-specific information:

Oregon Emergency Management
http://www.oregon.gov/OMD/OEM/Pages/JTMD.aspx
P.O. Box 14370, Salem, OR 97309-5062, 503-378-2911

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/invasive_species/marine_aquatic_invasive_species.asp
3406 Cherry Avenue N.E., Salem OR 97303, 503-947-6000

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
http://www.oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/tsunami_debris.shtml
725 Summer St NE, Salem OR 97301, 1-888-953-7677.

Department of Environmental Quality:
http://www.oregon.gov/deq/
811 SW 6th Avenue. Portland OR 97204-1390, 800-452-4011.

Health Department (Health Security, Preparedness & Response Program):
http://public.health.oregon.gov/preparedness/pages/04-2012japandebris.aspx
800 NE Oregon Street, Suite 465-B, Portland, OR 97232, 971-673-1315

SOLVE: Volunteer opportunities
http://www.solv.org/
2000 SW 1st Ave, Suite 400, Portland, OR 97201, 1-800-333-SOLV

Oregon Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation
http://oregon.surfrider.org/
Beachapedia page on tsunami debris

Coast Watch (Ocean Shores Conservation Coalition): Volunteer opportunities
http://www.oregonshores.org/coastwatch.php5
(503) 238-4450

Federal agencies

NOAA: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/japanfaqs.html

A marine debris reporting app: http://www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu

Boating
Q1. So what do you do if you see debris while you’re boating?

A. Safety first! Large marine debris objects from the tsunami are floating in the North Pacific, and pose a serious hazard to navigation, especially to small vessels. Watch out for such items, and if you see one, report immediately to the Coast Guard and provide date, time, location, and description. If it is just small trash you can safely retrieve (such as plastic, cans and so on), collect it if safe to do so and dispose of it at the boat ramp garbage container.

If it’s a large amount of small debris, report it to the local state park staff or law enforcement, or call 211, or send an email with the exact location, description and photo (if possible) to beach.debris@state.or.us.

Is it a big oil drum, gas can, propane tank (or other kind of chemical storage tank), boat or something similar? Call 211 and you’ll be connected to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center (1-800-424-8802). If the debris is a hazard to navigation, call 211 and you’ll be connected to the US Coast Guard Pacific Area Command (510-437-3701). Report the location (GPS latitude/longitude), time and a description of your boat. Do not attempt to move or remove vessels.


Effects on the ecosystem
 

Q1. Are there plants and animals attached to tsunami debris?
A. In some cases, yes. A large item such as a dock or a vessel may contain invasive species, which should be addressed quickly and effectively. However, a lot of debris that washes ashore is not from the tsunami: much of the debris that washes ashore every day has living organisms on it; many of these are species native to the open ocean and do not pose a threat to the environment.

Q2. What about species that could be invasive?
A. Much of the debris from the tsunami does not carry invasive species. The items most likely to carry invasive species are those that were floating in Japan’s waters for some time before the tsunami—docks, buoys and boats, for example.

Q3. Why are invasive species a problem?
A. Marine invasive species pose a serious threat to Oregon’s marine ecology and species by competing with native fish and wildlife for food and habitat and eating them. While not all nonnative species are destructive, most often, they exist at the expense of native fish and wildlife and the state’s economy.

Q4. So who is involved in managing species that come ashore on tsunami debris?
A. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife responds to debris that contains living organisms and is associated with the tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. Staff members coordinate with state and federal agencies; non-governmental organizations; universities; and other stakeholders and professionals on invasive species issues.

Q5. What should I do if I find debris and there’s something growing on it?
A. It depends on what you find. First, take a photo of the item and send it to beach.debris@state.or.us along with any relevant information.  The photo and information will be used by invasive species scientists to track the debris and organisms living on it.

If you are able to move the item, then please do your part to get it out of the ocean.  Dispose of small marine debris items—with or without living organisms on them—in a garbage can off the beach or in a landfill. If you are too far from a disposal site, remove the item from the water and place on dry land (above the high tide line) so that any organisms living on it will die and not be returned to the ocean.

If you not able to move the item (it is too large to move), notify the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department by email at beach.debris@state.or.us or call 211.

Never move debris with organisms on it to other bodies of water—an aquarium, pond or estuary. This will increase the chance that invasive species will spread.

Q6. How do I find out more?
A. Visit ODFW’s Marine Invasive Species page in the Conservation section of the website under Invasive Species. It will be updated regularly. http://tinyurl.com/oregonmarineinvasives

Staff contacts:

Rick Boatner, Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator
Rick.J.Boatner@state.or.us
(503) 947-6308

Meg Kenagy, Conservation Communications Coordinator
meg.b.kenagy@state.or.us
(503) 947-6021


Oregon Agencies at Work
 
Dozens of local, state, and federal agencies are cooperating to respond to tsunami debris. In addition to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, three other state agencies are acting in lead roles:

Tsunami Debris Task Force

On June 28, 2012 Governor Kitzhaber directed Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management to lead the Oregon Tsunami Debris Task Force. The office oversees an interagency team charged with incident preparedness and response, public safety, cleanup, and public outreach to address marine debris affecting Oregon's coastline.

View the Oregon Tsunami Debris Task Force members (PDF)
Oregon tsunami debris response plan