Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Asian Docks and Philosophy

Photograph courtesy of Oregon Parks and Recreation (OPRD) shows a team of about a dozen staff and volunteers organized by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to remove marine organisms from the dock which landed on Agate Beach, Oregon.
There have been two big invasive species stories this week. One of them was flashy and received national news coverage; the other was just as important but under the radar. Both connected Oregon to Asia. I’ll concentrate on the flashy one this week and tell you about the organic Chinese soybean saga in my next article.

The big splash was a dock that washed ashore at Agate Beach. It was traced back to Japan where it was dislodged by the March 2011 tsunami. Since then it has been drifting east. Similar to the types of living creatures found on most docks, this particular dock was host to various seaweeds, barnacles, and other sea creatures. Many of these hitchhikers were not native to Oregon, and some probably could have established here. There was a real possibility of introducing one or more invasive species.

Thankfully, the right people were notified, and they recognized the risk immediately. Personnel from Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Parks and Recreation, and Oregon Marine Board worked cooperatively to collect samples, scrape off all the living material, and scorch the dock with torches. Two tons of living material were removed and buried without delay. Good work, team, you did the right thing! Your quick action helped preserve the health of Oregon’s marine environment.

Several of the people involved have pointed out that the work is really just beginning; there will be a lot more tsunami debris arriving in the months ahead. Much of it is likely to be heavily fouled. Oregon needs to be ready to locate and deal with tsunami debris, including cases where less noticeable debris washes up in less convenient places. It is going to be a challenge.

There is an interesting philosophical question related to this challenge. What if the drifting debris at Agate Beach had been a tree that was uprooted and washed out to sea by the tsunami? By the time it washed ashore in North America, it could have been well colonized by a variety of seaweeds and sea critters. Because of where it started and the extended period on the water, some of these would likely be species not native to our corner of the world. Should we treat a drifting tree and it’s associated flora and fauna the same as a drifting dock?

The battle against invasive species is all about slowing down human-aided, non-natural spread. One could make the argument that the tsunami is a natural event and so are the winds and currents that move driftwood around the ocean. Trees dislodged by tsunamis were presumably drifting around the oceans with their hitchhiking marine organisms long before humans appeared on the earth. It’s Mother Nature’s plan. I agree non-native seaweed arriving on a dock is worth cleaning up, but what about non-native seaweed on driftwood? If a chunk of lumber washes up, should we treat it differently than a tree trunk? What do you think?

Dan Hilburn

1 comment:

  1. I'm thinking that the key phrase here is "slowing down" because we are being inundated, and the effects of human transport of species reminds me of the speed of the internet now with the old "dial-up" modems owners (i.e. old methods of dealing with invasives)trying to connect at a snail's pace. It just doesn't work any more, I'm afraid.... pacing is basically ineffective! It's possible that the drifting- tree-from-anywhere scenario might have been appropriate 50-100 years ago....but the chances are that a dock would have been the recipient of many, many more species brought into a harbor by boats from many locales, not just one habitat. So the potential of exposure to multiple invasives is greater just by the nature of the material that arrived here. Just a thought!