Scott: Today, we are kicking off a two-part series that takes a deeper look at the affects a disaster in Japan has had on us here in the U.S. three years later. On March 11th, 2011, Japan was dealt a catastrophic blow. And here is Tom Hanson with the story.
Tom: It was a disaster of epic proportions. First, a monster 9.1 magnitude earthquake violently shakes the country. So powerful parts of Japan’s coast moved as far as ten feet. Then just minutes later, a tsunami. Waves more than 100 feet high washed away hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings, and killed thousands of people. Next, a nuclear disaster. Reactors overheat after the tsunami knocked out power, leaking toxic radiation into the environment.
That was Japan three years ago. Now, fast forward to today…on the beaches of Newport, Oregon.
This came from Japan in 2011 when the tsunami struck. The way that we know that is because of this unique notch in the wood right here which is only used in Japanese structures.
Remnants of Japanese buildings are showing up on our shores, relics of what stood before the devastating tsunami.
Dr. John Chapman: With scientists there’s always a way, but we don’t know what it is.
Tom: We surveyed the beaches with Dr. John Chapman, a professor at Oregon State University and one of the leading scientists researching the debris in Oregon.
Dr. Chapman: There should be a lot more stuff coming.
Tom: So, there is more on the way?
Dr. Chapman: Yeah, undoubtedly. That’s what I think.
Tom: We head up the coast and find another wooden post still intact, surviving jagged cliffs and rough water. The pollution has traveled through ocean currents in the Pacific, starting near Japan and ending all the way on the West Coast.
Dr. Chapman: This is a piece of plastic. It’s not a shell.
Tom: From all kinds of trash to a 188-ton dock, it washed up in Oregon a year ago. Two more just like it still somewhere in the ocean. And it is not just debris the ocean currents are bringing to our shores.
You guys found that there was actually a surviving ecosystem on this dock.
Dr. Chapman: Yeah, this island of Asia that drifted across the ocean. That’s really what it was like. It’s an island. So all these organisms that were on there – and there were at least 120 – they were all interacting on that dock.
Tom: Foreign organisms using it as a vessel to make the journey across the Pacific. Something scientists have never seen before the Japanese tsunami.
Dr. Chapman: These are all new discoveries. So now we’re finding out that this debris collects things, and they can then disperse in a way that they never could disperse before.
Tom: Chapman has found more than 165 different types of species which have been introduced to the ecosystem on the West Coast. Species that came from Asia and don’t belong here.
So we came across yet another piece of tsunami debris here, but this one is a little different because it actually has a living organism inside of it. You can see this white strip here. That is from a wood-boring clam which isn’t native to the United States.
If those invasive species take hold here, it could have a devastating impact on the ecosystem.
Dr. Chapman: The species are like time bombs. There are many, many examples of things that came and nothing happened for a really long time, and then all of a sudden they started to become monsters.
Tom: The threat of invasive species is not a new concept. Why should we care about this specific instance?
Dr. Chapman: Well, first of all, it’s another incident. It’s a safe assumption that the new introduced species is something you didn’t want. If you did want it, it would already be here.
Then the other part of it is that here’s our chance to do something. Here’s our chance to measure how invasions happen. So if you really want to play chess, you need to know how the pieces move.
Tom: Tom Hanson, Channel One News.
Scott: For our complete coverage of the tsunami and its aftermath, go to ChannelOne.com. And coming up tomorrow, we take a deeper look at what else from the disaster is washing up on our shores.