Saturday, July 21, 2012

Debris Detective

Good evening! I have certainly fallen off the blog train this week, but in my defense I was partially distracted by chasing down possible tsunami debris off of Newport, Oregon again.  From what I can tell, it's nothing relating to the tsunami, but interesting nonetheless.  Here's what happened.

Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to get a text from a good friend that one of her interns at Hatfield Marine Science Center (where I also work) saw something washed up on South Beach in Newport.  Of course, like all exciting tips usually are, it was lacking in any details. Seems that the student didn't know what it was, or how to report it.

And so it was that I found myself driving to the beach at 8:00pm, the moderate low tide for the day. I didn't see anything of interest on the beach and walked nearly a quarter mile until I saw what looked like some large driftwood washed up.  As I got closer I saw a giant rusty hulk of metal stuck in a tide pool. Now, if anyone knows anything about me, I tend to get a little impulsive and excited when my nerdy side gets ahold of me.  It wasn't until I was wading thigh-deep in a tide pool to try and get a closer look at this thing, that I realized that this was perhaps not the wisest thing to do. So I decided to spare myself a round of tetanus, and satisfied myself with a few photos until I could come back in the morning during the really low tide (Oregon has what we call semidiurnal tides- two highs and two lows a day of differing heights).

Mysterious giant metal thing

The next day, I booked it down to the same spot, where a group of tourists were examining the object.  It was still in a tide pool, but the water was mostly out so we were able to get much closer to it. Unfortunately, for some folks, this meant climbing on the object to get some photo opts.  Speaking of ...

Beach Safety Note

May I just say, never climb on an object that you can't totally see, or that may not be secure, especially if it is partially submerged. Lots of tourists are hurt every year because they get caught by driftwood at high tide, or climb on things that aren't as 'secure' as they look.  For instance, this object was partially buried in sand, rusty, and could have had any number of sharp metal protrusions to give you a nasty cut. Especially not a good thing to be climbing on in bare feet.  Always remember that it's possible to get your foot stuck as well- a very dangerous prospect if you're alone and the tide is coming in.  This may seem like common sense, but I saw at least 3 people (including a kid) climbing on this thing when I was there for about 15 minutes.

Oregon Parks and Rec has a great Beach Safety Website

As they say, 4 inches of water can lift a 5 ton log. 

Okay, back to the story at hand!

The funnest part of beachcombing for me is doing a bit of detective work to determine the story behind an object.  We can use our knowledge of ocean processes, biology, and a little common sense to figure out some pretty cool stories about objects.

I was able to take some photos and ascertain a few facts:

This is obviously a boat.  A very, very old and rusty one.  From what I could tell it looked like a small fishing vessel (It appeared to have below-deck holds for fish or crab), with no visible identification.  It was also in terrible shape. I would guess it measured about 30-40 feet and had remnants of blue paint on it.
It was fairly well-buried in sand, meaning to me that it had been there at least for a while.  However, it was below the low tide line so could have been quickly covered in sand once it washed up.  The folks I talked to said it had been there at least since Thursday, a day before I was told of it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any locals to talk to.

Full view of the small boat with inquisitive onlookers

The plants and animals growing on the boat are all local, from what I could tell.  In fact, there wasn't much growing on it at all. The species were intertidal, being Ulva intestinalis- a common green seaweed, and Chthamalus dalli, the acorn barnacle.   And one lonely Pisaster ochraceus, or purple sea star.

A very lonely-looking sea star
Unlike the giant Japanese dock that washed up, the lack of notable sea life and the fact that it was all local suggests to me that this is a local vessel that wasn't in the water that long. In addition, Chthamalus dalli is a pretty fast settler and grower, and the barnacles on this boat were quite small.  I'd say an estimate of a few weeks is not unreasonable.

So what do we have? A (probably) local boat, rusty and old, that's been in the ocean or uncovered for a few weeks or possibly months.  We can also say that this is not likely tsunami debris, being that it is in pretty rough shape, and likely didn't drift over easily.  However, I could be totally wrong on many of these points.

How it got there, I can't say.  I would guess it either sank a long time ago, washed up, and was just recently uncovered on the beach, or was recently sank as either a means of disposal or accident.  But there's still lots of exciting things about this! I think this is a good reminder to use common sense before we assume things are Japanese (as some folks on the beach were discussing today), but also it is a reminder that the ocean is a cool and dynamic place, full of surprises!  Who knows what the story of this little boat was, before it found its way onto the beach.  Whose was it? What did it fish for? How did it get there?

I think imagination makes life a bit more fun- maybe it's good to not always have the answers.

Oh, and may I say that the best part of the whole experience for me was that somebody thought to contact me about it :) There's nothing quite as exciting as pursuing a lead, I think, even though I didn't know if it would result in anything. If you have any objects or information you'd like to share, you'll have my gratitude! Thanks for reading.

Note: The views and content choices expressed in this blog are mine alone.  I am writing out of personal interest and a desire to share information with others in an accessible and fun way.  Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment