Lonnie Archibald of Beaver shows a float he found near the mouth of the Quillayute River. (Photo by Marge Archibald, for Peninsula Daily News)
PORT ANGELES, Wash. - Now that beachcombers know what they are seeing, coastal residents have reported finding several pieces of suspected Japan tsunami debris on Clallam County beaches.
A large black float found two weeks ago on a beach east of Neah Bay was most likely the first piece of identifiable wreckage that had washed up on West Coast beaches from a massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake and resultant tsunami in Japan on March 11, researchers said this week.
Seattle oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham announced that during a lecture Tuesday night at the Peninsula
College campus in Port Angeles.
Since the Neah Bay discovery, the two wind and water current researchers, known as DriftBusters Inc., said the black, 55-gallon drum-sized floats also have been discovered on Vancouver Island.
After a report on the lecture in the Peninsula Daily News on Thursday, others on the West End realized they had found similar floats — but had not known what they were.
The floats were the topic of much discussion among Makah tribal members and other residents of Neah Bay on Thursday, said Janine Bowechop, director of the Makah Cultural & Research Center.
About a quarter of the 100 million tons of debris from Japan is expected to begin to make landfall on Pacific coastlines in a year, Ebbesmeyer said.
Most of the debris is still in the middle of the Pacific, but some lighter, windblown flotsam travels faster, he said.
Neah Bay is located on a cape at the northwestern tip of the continental U.S., at a point where two major east-flowing currents split, one north to Alaska and another south toward California.
It is a dropping-off point for flotsam caught in those currents, the researchers said.
Debris snagged by currents leading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca will eventually wash up on beaches from the mouth of the Elwha River to Port Townsend, they said.
Beaches around LaPush, which is 30 miles south of Neah Bay on the Pacific Coast, also are likely to accumulate tsunami debris.
Two floats similar to the one identified Tuesday as part of the tsunami debris field were found on Rialto Beach near the mouth of the Quillayute River about a week before Thanksgiving, said Beaver resident Lonnie Archibald, who also is a freelance photographer often published in the PDN and the Forks Forum.
Quileute Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland said Thursday that the tribe, which lives in a reservation largely within a tsunami zone, is sending prayers to the Japanese.
“We have a special kinship with our brothers and sisters across the sea and lift our hands to their amazing resilience, courage and strength during these latest developments,” she added.
The Quileute tribal emergency management team is discussing procedures for handling items found around the LaPush area and has contacted the state Department of Ecology for information about how any potentially hazardous materials should be handled, said Jackie Jacobs, spokeswoman for the tribe.
“We are asking that community members and visitors please contact law enforcement or the local Coast Guard if they find anything that may have possibly traveled to our shore as a result of the Japanese tsunami,” Jacobs said.
Eventually, huge rafts of debris containing anything from boats to mementoes to even human body parts could wash up on western shores, Ebbesmeyer said.
People should also be aware of the possibility of radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Ebbesmeyer said.