Possible tsunami debris retrieved

A refrigerator-sized piece of ocean debris, possibly from the Japanese earthquake/tsunami two years ago, was removed by helicopter from the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve shoreline Monday.

After taking a swim in the area Sunday evening, Jeff Bagshaw, a member of the citizen’s advisory council for the Ahihi-Kinau NAR, said he spotted the piece of debris “bobbing on the horizon” at about 6 p.m. Forty minutes later, the object beached itself on the rocky shoreline in an area known as “Dumps,” about 15 yards south of where the trail to the parking lot begins, he said.

“That’s pretty fast,” said the Haleakala National Park ranger about how quickly the object came ashore.

The object narrowly missed a large coral head coming in, but he said he noticed barnacles and “big braddah” oysters/mussels not native to Hawaii clinging to the debris.

Bagshaw said he was worried about the next high tide drawing the debris back into the ocean and leaving the object to once again threaten the “nice big coral heads” in the bay.

He tried to use a kiawe branch as a lever to move the object to higher ground but was unsuccessful.

“Couldn’t roll it at all and cut my hands good on the barnacles,” he said.

“I was thinking it was going to take four big guys . . . like carrying out a coffin,” Bagshaw said, adding that he thought a cable and winch could do the job as well.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources chose to use a chopper Monday to lift the object off the beach onto a truck, said Sarah Bott of the DLNR. Breaking up the object and hauling out the pieces was considered, but there were worries about the styrofoam breaking up and the unknown contents of the center of the debris, which may have come from Japan, she said.

Noting that Monday was the second anniversary of the Tohoku quake-tsunami that killed thousands and damaged nuclear power plants, Bott said that DLNR officials don’t know if the debris is from Japan, though the styrofoam-and-concrete object could be a piece from a floating dock from Japan of the type that has been seen in Hawaiian waters. The only marking on the object was an “M” or a “3.”

She described the object as the size of a refrigerator. Bagshaw said the object was of twin-bed size and about 3 feet tall.

DLNR staff and volunteers cleaned off the piece of styrofoam and concrete as best they could, putting the material in plastic bags, and rolled the object onto an industrial-strength net with ‘o’o sticks as the high tide started crashing in, she said. The net was attached to a cable lowered from a chopper with DLNR’s Peter Landon aboard, who helped direct the lifting of the object onto a truck.

The piece of debris was taken to the DLNR Maui Aquatics Division office in Wailuku for more survey and observation, Bott said. In addition to the barnacles, officials found limpets, worms and crabs.

The piece of debris eventually will make its way to the Central Maui Landfill, she said.

Bott and Bagshaw both said that the reserve seems to be a collecting point for ocean debris.

“Super-strong swimmers” bring ashore fishing nets found in the waters off the reserve, said Bott. In addition to the styrofoam-concrete object, volunteers Monday also removed a net.

Bagshaw said that when he’s finished swimming every Sunday, he collects trash along the shoreline. He has picked up plastics; styrofoam; a GoPro camera, like the kind they mount on surfboards; and a hospital urinal bottle.

“Too many holes; I think it was clean,” Bagshaw said of the last item.

The removal of the styrofoam-concrete object was not the end of the DLNR’s work with ocean debris in the reserve. For the past week, officials have been looking for a rusty metal blue drum with holes in it, sighted floating in the waters off the reserve, said Bott.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.