Thought Leader: The Incredible 5000 Mile Odyssey of a Survey Marker

A 1.299Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

One evening in early 2013 with nothing else to do I was browsing the Internet idly searching surveying-related stories. I discovered a TV news story broadcast by KIRO-TV in Seattle, Washington about a charter boat captain, who on March 31, 2012, found an unusual looking plastic stake, with a Japanese inscription on it, floating alongside his boat dock. A friend of his translated the inscription and he found out that it was a survey marker set for a government survey. They thought was debris from the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. However it actually was a result of Typhoon Talas which occurred on September 2-3, 2011.

I immediately recognized it as a marker by Ripro Corporation in Okayama, Japan, a manufacturer of survey markers using recycled plastic, with whom I had worked with and known for over 20 years. I immediately contacted the CEO of Ripro, Kengo Okada. Of course he was very surprised and astonished that a marker set in Japan floated across the vast Pacific and ended up in the USA. I then contacted Tom Averna, the charter boat captain owner of Deer Harbor Charters who found it and made arrangements for us to meet him.

The Story
Much damage resulted from the typhoon that struck western Japan (Typhoon Talas) in early September 2011. Along with great property damage and many deaths a small casualty of the typhoon was a nondescript government survey marker set by the small town of Hidaka (population 7202 in 2003) in the prefecture of Wakayama.

Amazingly in the span of about 7 months this little plastic marker journeyed across the Pacific ending up floating alongside Averna’s dock in Deer Harbor, Washington. It’s remarkable that this tiny, lightweight marker weighing only 6 ounces, about 16 inches long and less than 2 inches square, could survive such a trip.

Even more amazing is that the normal Pacific longitudinal current should have meant that this little marker would have been destined to be stuck endlessly circulating in a clockwise rotation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But somehow, after being uprooted by the typhoon, hurling down a series of canals into the great ocean and maneuvering through and around the San Juan Islands this small marker ended up alongside the small dock of Deer Harbor Charters on Orcas Island having journeyed over 5000 miles across the Pacific!

On July 21, 2013 Kengo Okada and I met in Seattle, Kengo coming from Japan and I arriving from Madison. Renting a car we drove to Anacortes and took the Washington State Ferry to Orcas Island. The next day we met up with Tom Averna. Kengo had commissioned a special commemorative souvenir copy of the little marker to present to Tom. In turn, Tom gave Kengo the marker that had traveled so far. We were then treated to a whale watching cruise by Tom and were fortunate to experience several magnificent viewings of whales.

It was a truly amazing experience. Who would have, could have, believed something like this actually happening. All brought together by a small survey marker originally set a mark a town boundary and ended up by making its mark 5000 miles away. It truly is a small world after all!

As a result of this incredible story Ripro created a full-color traditional Manga book telling the saga of a marker called Little Orca and its 8000 kilometer (5000 mile) odyssey. It was actually a 16,000 kilometer (10,000 mile) odyssey as the marker made a return back to where it was created!

Tom Averna
Captain and naturalist Tom Averna established and operated Deer Harbor Charters in 1988, the longest operating and most respected whale watching business in the San Juan Islands. Tom has a background in marine science and has been a professional captain for 35 years. Tom is also the first elected president of the Whale Watch Operators Association, Northwest.

About Ripro
Founded in 1971 Ripro Corporation, located in Okayama, Japan with offices in Tokyo and Tohoku, is the world’s largest manufacturer of survey markers producing over 5 million annually. Ripro is committed to protecting the environment and invests significant capital in protecting natural resources. By recycling rainwater, using solar energy and recycling 100% of the plastics used in the markers, they do their part to help protect and save the environment Ripro. Being green saves money, by using green technologies Ripro reduces costs and increases its bottom line. Better for Earth and Ripro, it’s definitely a win-win situation. This commitment is upheld and directed by Kengo Okada, CEO and Takumi Okada, founder of Ripro and its Chairman. (Japanese), (English).

John is the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Head of Delegation to FIG (the International Federation of Surveyors). He is also president of the FIG Foundation, NSPS Fellow and FIG Honorary Member.

A 1.299Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE