Japanese Tsunami Debris Reaches Pacific Northwest

Posted: June 14, 2012 in nature and the environment
Tags: , , , , ,
Tracking Debris from the Tohoku Tsunami

Tracking Debris from the Tohoku Tsunami
by NASA Earth Observatory, creative commons/attribution, flickr.

The map above shows the output of the Surface Currents from Diagnostic (SCUD) model, an attempt to simulate where and how that debris would disperse. Orange and red shaded areas represent parcels of water with a high probably of containing floating debris. The deeper the red color, the higher the likely concentration. The debris field stretches roughly 5,000 kilometers by 2,000 kilometers across the North Pacific.


A 66-foot dock washes ashore in Oregon:

Japanese Tsunami Debris Reaches Pacific Northwest

Seattle Times
reports that as Grassroots Garbage Gang volunteer Ellen Anderson walked her dog on a Southwest Washington beach recently, she retrieved several hundred pieces of foam. The Grassroots Garbage Gang began a cleanup effort, where they recovered 6700 pieces of foam. Federal officials reason that the foam is of tsunami origin.

The yellow and blue insulation foam is quite stiff. Some pieces have what appears to be marks left by glue that might have been used to attach it to containers or buildings.

The white foam crumbles much more in the grinding of the surf.

As it disintegrates into smaller, beadlike pieces, the material can be ingested by birds as well as marine organisms.

While debris cleanup is necessary, money is limited.

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program
explains that when the tsunami wave receded from the shore, it pulled about 5 million tons of debris with it. Most of the heavier debris sank but the Japanese government estimates that about 1.5 million tons of debris began its journey as a debris field.

Today the debris is scattered, and a ‘floating debris field’ is not visible.

NOAA Marine Debris Program explains that it is “highly unlikely” that the debris is radioactive, because the debris left for sea immediately, whereas the contaminated water left the Fukushima area many days later. Also, the vast majority of debris was miles away from the damaged reactors.

The Ocean Conservancy voices concern that invasive species (debris hitch hikers) could upset the existing marine ecosystem and threaten species, namely in Hawaii: the Laysan and black-footed albatross, Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, and other threatened and endangered species.

Wiki discusses the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that seems to be getting greater. On the topic of marine impact from ocean debris is the statement:

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and their young,[5] including sea turtles and the Black-footed Albatross.[30] Besides the particles’ danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs.[31] Aside from toxic effects,[32] when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal.[30] These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish.

Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals.[33] Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.[14][dead link]

On the macroscopic level, the physical size of the plastic kills birds and turtles as the animals’ digestion can not break down the plastic inside their stomachs. A second effect of the macroscopic plastic is to make it much more difficult for animals to see and detect their normal sources of food.[citation needed]
Research has shown that this plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species worldwide and a few of the 267 species reside in the North Pacific Gyre.[34]

Pieces of blue and yellow insulation foam on beaches in the Pacific Northwest is likely only the visible beginning to what will be a long process with yet unknown long-term impact. Additional stresses to the delicate coral reef system and the marine ecosystem at large will likely lead to further decline. It is important to support cleanup efforts through direct participation, educating and raising awareness, or through legislative support.

Conservation efforts should be central to the government’s efforts. Recommendations should be taken seriously and followed.


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