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Tsunami Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris:

Preventing the introduction of marine invasive species from the biofouling community associated with the tsunami marine debris through a regional coordinated response.


On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Oshika Peninsula(Honshu, Japan), creating a devastating tsunami that reached heights of up to 133 feet and inundated 217 square miles. The tsunami sent millions of tons of Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) into the ocean, originating both from terrestrial and marine environments.

Of great concern is marine‐origin debris (MOD) such as docks, piers, buoys, vessels, aquaculture floats, and other buoyant materials that were immersed in seawater at the time of the tsunami. There is a high likelihood that these MOD items may be colonized by biofouling organisms. Biofouling refers to the attached and associated free‐living organisms found on marine structures. Those marine organisms associated with JTMD originating directly from Japanese harbors, ports, and estuaries are of particular concern. Some of these animals and plants may have the potential to become invasive species on the North American or Hawai'ian coasts.


188 ton Commercial Fisheries Dock

On June 5, 2012, a 188-ton large commercial fisheries dock – 66 feet long, 19 feet wide, and 7 feet tall, and weighing approximately 188 net tons – confirmed to have been lost from Misawa on Honshu Island during last year's Japan tsunami, washed ashore on Agate Beach in Oregon near Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC).


Crab from Japan

Scientists from the HMSC responded quickly to the dock arrival and sampled the living community of shallow-water subtidal marine species attached to the dock, most of which are not pelagic, nor native to the west coast of the USA.

A remarkable living assemblage of marine organisms was found on the dock including more than 90 non-native species. Several species of animals and plants found on the dock are already known as high‐profile invasive species, indicating the striking potential for JTMD to transport potentially serious AIS to North America. Examples include the Asian brown seaweed (Undaria pinnatifida—on Oregon's 100 Worst List of Invasive Species) and the Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus—a well-known aggressive invader of the East Coast).

Samples of the biofouling community are still being analyzed. Updates of the full species list can be found at



Clam from Japan

This incident along with others in Hawaii have raised awareness of the potential introduction of non‐native, and possible invasive species, to the West Coast of the United States, Hawaii, and Canada from Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD). Accordingly, a Regional Preparedness and Response Workshop to Address Biofouling and Aquatic Invasive Species on Japan Tsunami Marine Debris was held July 31 – Aug 1, 2012 at Portland State University, Portland, Oregon. The workshop addressed the need for entities along the West Coast, Hawaii and Canada to create a coherent framework for risk assessments, management, outreach and engagement, policy, and research related to the introduction of invasive species by JTMD. Workshop participants included marine debris and invasive species experts, managers, and communicators.


Barnacles from Japan

The overarching goal of the workshop was to reduce the risk the introduction of AIS from the biofouling community associated with JTMD through a regional coordinated response. Objectives toward achieving this goal included:

  1. Clarification of agency jurisdiction roles and responsibilities
  2. Enhanced communication and coordination
  3. Enlisting technical support for taxonomic identifications
  4. Identification of critically important research questions relevant to the risk of AIS transported by JTMD

Group discussions and interaction during the workshop were used to develop Response Protocols for Biofouled Debris and Invasive Species Generated by the 2011 Japan Tsunami. The document includes:

  • Guidelines for the communication of risk
  • Framework for incident reporting
  • Science‐based protocols for risk assessment
  • Management options to effectively and consistently respond to potential AIS associated with JTMD on shore and at sea.

PDFResponse Protocols for Biofouled Debris and Invasive Species Generated by the 2011 Japan Tsunami


Your help is needed to spread the word about the best practice guidelines for safely handling marine debris. It is especially important to report hazardous substances, vessels or other large debris, and items contaminated with non-native - potentially invasive - organisms.

Suspicious or potentially invasive organisms attached to debris:

Take clear photographs. If possible, include photos displaying the entire piece of debris, close-up photos of the attached organisms, and any identifying marks (e.g., writing) on the debris.

Remove the item from the water and place on dry land (well above the high tide line) so that any organisms living on it will die and not be returned to the ocean during high tide or storm events. In your report, note the current location of the item as authorities may need to retrieve specimens.

Contact the appropriate state (or province) JTMD / invasive species coordinator listed below:

Alaska: Tammy Davis - 907 465-6183 (

California: Martha Volkoff - 916 651-8658 (

Hawaii: Sonia Gorgula - 808 392 9629 (

Oregon: Caren Braby - 541 867- 0300 x226 (

Washington: Allen Pleus - 360 902-2724 (

British Columbia: Thomas Therriault - 250 756-7394 (

Potential hazardous materials (HAZMAT):

Examples: Oil or chemical drums, gas cans, propane tanks If you find debris that may pose a life-threatening risk, call 911 immediately. Do not touch or move the item.

Litter and other typical marine debris items:

Examples: Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, buoys, Styrofoam If safe and practical, we encourage you to remove the debris and recycle as much of it as possible.

Derelict vessel or other large debris item:

Examples: Adrift fishing boat, shipping containers, docks Do not attempt to move or remove item. Contact your local authorities.

If the debris item is a hazard to navigation, immediately notify the US Coast Guard Pacific Area Command at 510-437-3701 or radio your nearest U.S. Coast Guard Sector Command Center via VHF-FM Ch. 16 or 2182 MHz.

For Canada, contact Transport Canada at 604-775-8867 or by email to

Personal effects or possessions from the Japanese tsunami:

Items that appear to be personal belongings should be reported to with as much detail as possible. The NOAA Marine Debris Program will work with local Japanese consulates to determine if they can help identify the owner.

For other marine debris concerns:


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