It was pulled from the chilly waters off the shore of Lincoln County’s Ona Beach, located just south of Newport, nearly a year ago. Following studies and research by multiple Oregon state agencies, the remnants of what is believed to be derelict boat debris set afloat during the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan was delivered to its new home May 12.
“The Miyamaru was removed from the Ocean Shore State Recreation Area at Ona Beach in May 2014,” said Ryan Parker, a central beach coast ranger with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. “We delivered it to Taft High School on May 12, 2015.”
Last week, Taft High staff and workers positioned The Miyamaru into its position at the southwest corner of the school’s parking lot.
But this wasn’t some symbolic gesture to commemorate the death of some drifting tsunami relic, nor was it a mourning of the many lives lost in the tragic event.
Taft 7-12 High School Principal Majalise Tolan and Parker worked together to get the vessel to its new home — and final resting place — so that it could be refurbished and used to help new life grow from the force that destroyed so much four years ago.
“It's my understanding that Taft students and faculty plan to make the boat into a native plant garden at the entrance to their parking lot,” Parker said.
Taft High teacher Nikki Wolff, whose self-contained special education class worked to prepare the school site for the boat and transplanted about 30 boxwood bushes, said her students have been waiting excitedly for the boat to arrive.
“We measured and began digging the hole it will rest in, and now we are planning what will be grown in it — the boat will be a planter, growing native plants,” she said.
In the process, Wolff and her students have worked closely with Salmon Drift Creek Watershed Council REEF Education Coordinator Graham Klag to get healthy soil and native plants.
While The Miyamaru will be used for something positive, it certainly isn’t the first, nor is it the last, piece of Japanese tsunami debris to wash up in Lincoln County, Parker said.
“There have been several high-profile items that have been proven to be from the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that have washed up on Oregon’s shoreline since that terrible event,” he said. “Most notably (was) the Misawa dock, which landed on Agate Beach on June 4, 2012.”
A second dock from the Port of Misawa, located on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, landed along the coast of Olympic National Park in December 2012.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, maintains a website that tracks and confirms potential Japanese tsunami marine debris, Parker said.
“Many small boats and skiffs tied to the shellfish farming industry on the east coast of Japan were set adrift in the tsunami,” he said. “Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia have all had these wash ashore. Oregon has had a number of these boats appear on Lincoln County beaches since the winter of 2013.”
Though debris began showing up on the U.S. West Coast nearly two years after the tsunami hit Japan, there’s no way to know when remnants will stop surfacing.
“The Pacific is the world’s largest ocean,” Parker said. “This sheer scale makes it difficult to determine a timeline.
“Oregon State Parks is concerned about the impact of all marine debris, not just that from the tsunami,” he said. “Marine debris has a big environmental and economic impact on coastal communities.”
The latest example of this occurred April 9 when authorities responded to another derelict boat west of Ona Beach. The boat, also believed to be a tsunami remnant, was determined to be the front section of a larger boat. It was towed to the South Beach Marina in Newport, and then re-towed to Riverbend Marine Services on the Yaquin River using money set aside for tsunami debris removal.
Biologists with the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center inspected the low-floating object and, after consulting with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, determined the organisms still attached posed a low threat to the Oregon coastal ecosystem.
Several live specimens of a variety of yellowtail jack fish, native to the coastal waters of Japan, were discovered aboard the boat.
After emptying water from the bow's holding tanks, the wreck was hoisted from the river and most of the attached plants and animals were scraped off. Researchers with the Hatfield Marine Science Center collected additional samples of wood, plants and animals to be studied.
Because tsunami debris isn’t an uncommon thing, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department requests the help of local citizens in reporting anything unusual, Parker said.
“The OPRD advises that if people see something hazardous on the beach, to call 911 and not put themselves at risk of injury,” he said. “They can also call 211. We partner with the Oregon Marine Debris Team to coordinate beach areas that require cleanup events, outside of the biannual SOLVE spring and fall beach cleanups.”
To check out the history of confirmed tsunami debris discovered along the Oregon coast, visit NOAA’s website at tinyurl.com/ks2rb9d.