Feature Story                                                             August 2012 

As Volunteers Struggle to Remove Asian Kelp from Marinas in San Francisco Bay, More is Being Washed in with Tsunami Debris from Japan.

By Monaca Noble and Chela Zabin

A large 70-foot commercial fishing dock broke loose from the Port of Misawa on the northern tip of Japan's main island during the 2011 tsunami. The dock drifted ashore on Agate Beach in Oregon on June 5, 2012. The sides and top of the dock were colonized by the invasive Aisian kelp (Undaria pinnatifida). Photo by Steve Rumrill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Debris from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan is washing up on our shores and bringing with it  invasive species such as the Asian kelp Undaria pinnatifida. One recent example is the large floating dock from Japan that washed up on Agate Beach in Newport, OR this June. Upon its arrival in Newport researchers from Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife examined the dock and found it inhabited with a large number of non-native marine organisms including kelp, seaweeds, mussels, barnacles, seastars, crabs, and other marine life. The June 7th article in Science Daily reported that Undaria was present across most of the dock. According to Steve Rumrill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, workers from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife scraped 4,260 lbs of marine organisms from the sides and top of the dock, and they burned all exposed surfaces to further reduce the risk of invasion. However, not all debris washing up on our shores is as large and conspicuous as this dock and these smaller pieces, if undetected, could lead to new introductions.

The Asian kelp Undaria is native to the northwest Pacific —Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Japan where it is cultivated as a food plant. This fast-growing kelp fouls ship hulls, nets, fishing gear, moorings, ropes, and other marine structures. Fouling on boat hulls is the most frequent means of introduction into new areas where it causes economic and ecological damage, and competes for light and space with native populations of marine algae, plants and animals, altering native ecosystems. 

Taylor Frierson (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) scrapes off Asian kelp, mussels, barnacles, and other marine organisms from the side of the floating dock. The ODFW Marine Resources team removed 4,260 lbs of living material from the dock, and then sterilized the sides and top with a propane torch. Photo by Steve Rumrill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Undaria was first discovered in California at Cabrillo Beach, Los Angeles in 2000. From there it spread northward and became established at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, and at the San Francisco Marina and South Beach Harbor Marina in San Francisco Bay in 2009. Following this discovery, researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s (SERC) Marine Invasions Lab organized a volunteer removal effort at each of these marinas to remove the kelp. Since then, over 150 volunteers have removed hundreds of pounds of kelp from these and other marinas in the area. As part of this effort SERC has launched a new website to engage divers, fishermen, boaters and others to look for and report new sightings of Undaria. SERC is also organizing an early detection and rapid response network from northern California to Alaska to respond to new outbreaks. As more marine debris from the tsunami comes ashore, volunteers are encouraged to report any sightings of Undaria on this debris as well as the location of the debris. Of course depending on the nature of the debris and the location, it may not always be possible for volunteers to safely access the debris. More information about this debris is available National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program website, they also ask that all significant accumulations or large tsunami debris be reported to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.

Undaria removal volunteers at South Beach Marina, San Francisco. Photo by Chela Zabin.

Without the ongoing effort of volunteers, Undaria may become widespread in San Francisco Bay and points north. Currently there is no funding for a large-scale eradication effort that could go beyond the limited volunteer effort, making the need for volunteers to remove and report sightings of kelp in San Francisco Bay and all along the West Coast of the United States and Canada that much more important. We would like to encourage everyone to get involved in this effort to protect our waterways from invasive species such as the Undaria kelp and the many other invasive species that are making their way to our shores on marine debris.


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