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Pacific Whale Foundation Staff Action Demonstrates Protocol for Handling Suspected Tsunami Debris and Hitchhiker Invasive Species

Organization urges Hawai‘i boaters and ocean users to be aware and be prepared.

October 3, 2013
Maui Weekly

A plastic float ball marked with what could be Japanese lettering and partly encrusted with gooseneck barnacles and blue mussels is being treated as potential Japanese tsunami debris after it was discovered in the 'Au'Au Channel by Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) crew returning from a snorkel cruise to Lana'i on Sunday, Sept. 22.

The crew, which was trained in protocols developed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for handling suspected tsunami debris from Japan, retrieved the item at 1:15 p.m.

Because the staff was also trained to know that blue mussels are an invasive species not native to Hawai'i, they took steps to keep the mussels out of the ocean. The mussels were carefully scraped off the ball into a plastic bag and then refrigerated.

Article Photos

A plastic float ball marked with what could be Japanese lettering is being treated as potential Japanese tsunami debris after it was discovered in the ‘Au‘Au Channel by Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) crewmembers.

The team contacted officials from Hawai'i's Department of Land and Natural Resources, who provided instructions to PWF on handling the mussels.

Per DLNR's instructions, the mussel samples are now being sent to a lab in Connecticut to be biopsied to help determine their origin.

"The crew's training in the DLNR and NOAA protocol helped them understand the danger that the blue mussels pose to Hawai'i's marine environment," said Lauren Campbell, conservation manager at PWF. "Had the mussels been scraped off into the ocean or harbor, it could have started an invasion of this unwelcome species here."

Campbell organized the training for the staff after reading about the threats posed by tsunami debris arriving in Hawai'i.

"Pacific Whale Foundation organizes and conducts regular surveys and clean-ups of marine debris on Maui's beaches, noting anything that might be considered tsunami debris," Campbell said. "With the number of ocean ecotours conducted by our vessels, I thought it would be wise to include our boats in monitoring for tsunami debris."

PWF's company policy already dictates that its vessels stop to pick up marine debris in the ocean whenever possible. Campbell's training ensured that all PWF captains and vessel staff would understand how to handle suspected tsunami debris, especially debris that might be carrying unwanted or invasive aquatic organisms. includes photos of gooseneck barnacles, which are not of concern as an invasive species, and blue mussels, which are a concern.

Certain species of chitons, limpets and crabs native to Japanese waters are also considered a concern.

According to the Website, suspected tsunami debris with living marine organisms should be removed from the water or shoreline, if it can be done safely, and placed in a trash bag. Items that are large but movable should be moved out of the wash of the waves. DLNR should be contacted about items that are not movable.

The organisms should not be brushed or washed off the item. The Website urges the public to not eat the organisms or move debris with the organisms on it into other bodies of water, such as an aquarium or pond.

There were six large blue mussels on the float ball discovered by PWF. Campbell is eager to learn if the lab reports find whether the mussels are thought to have originated in Japan. Blue mussels are also native to the Pacific Northwest.

Japanese officials estimate that nearly 5 million tons of debris was swept into the ocean as a result of the tsunami, with about 70 percent of that debris sinking immediately offshore. To date, only 30 pieces of debris picked up along the North American West Coast and Hawai'i have been officially confirmed as Japan Tsunami debris.

"That means that 1.5 million tons of tsunami debris are still floating," said Campbell.

She hopes that all of Maui's recreational and commercial vessel operators study DLNR's Japan Tsunami Debris guidelines and train their crews in the protocol.

"This is an example of how we all can make a difference by keeping a vigilant eye and taking appropriate action," Campbell said.



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