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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Tsunami Debris Workgroup Bulletin 

November 2011

In March 2011, the tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan washed debris into the Pacific Ocean.  Computer models project the path of this tsunami debris to head eastward from the Japan coast towards Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.  These models have predicted landfall of the debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands some time in Spring 2012 and the West Coast of the continental United States approximately one year later.

EPA Region 9 and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are collaborating with federal and State partners as well as external stakeholders to assess and monitor the movement of the tsunami debris.  More information is needed on movement patterns and debris types and quantities in order to help better understand what's out there.  This will help in planning to prevent, mitigate, and/or address impacts of any potential debris.

Previous Workgroup Meetings and Teleconferences

  • USEPA Region 9 and NOAA convened a meeting of members of the Oceania Regional Response Team (ORRT) and agency representatives from the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee (IMDCC) on June 27, 2011 in Honolulu, HI to determine the role for each federal agency in a potential tsunami debris response.
  • Representatives of the ORRT and IMDCC agreed to pursue methods for assessing and tracking tsunami debris, and established a Japan tsunami debris workgroup.

July 2011 - August 2011

  • Follow-up meetings with the Japan tsunami marine debris workgroup and a separate technical session were held in July and August during which the group explored mechanisms for determining the extent and nature of the tsunami debris and discussed workable options for data gathering platforms.
  • NOAA provided information to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a MARAD Advisory concerning Japan tsunami debris.  The advisory urges U.S.-flagged ships and mariners to be vigilant while transiting the North Pacific between Japan and the West Coast of the United States.  The advisory includes information on potential types of debris and provides an email address for reporting significant sightings of floating debris in the North Pacific Ocean.
  • NOAA provided an email address (mdsightings@gmail.com) as part of the MARAD Advisory for mariners to report significant debris sightings in the open ocean.  NOAA will monitor this email address.

September 2011

  • The MARAD Advisory Exiting EPA (disclaimer) was issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation on September 23, 2011. 
  • Discussions between NOAA, USEPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) continued regarding the importance of monitoring marine debris on Midway Atoll, which is predicted to be the first U.S. landmass potentially affected by the tsunami debris.  The consensus is that monitoring efforts would be valuable to observe any increases in shoreline marine debris possibly caused by tsunami debris.
  • NOAA has worked with the USFWS on Tern Island (French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian islands) to update marine debris data collection and monitoring protocols.  Weekly surveys of East Beach will be conducted and NOAA will work with the USFWS on data analysis.  USFWS has collected data at this site since 1990, so any changes in deposition amounts should be noticeable.

October 2011 - November 2011

  • NOAA is working to gather tsunami debris information through the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operation's Pacific fleet of vessels as well as through the NOAA Observer Program and its work with the Hawaii longline fishing industry.
  • Subsequent federal action will be informed by information gathered by voluntary reporting from ships in the North Pacific.
  • USEPA is working with USFWS to augment ongoing monitoring efforts in preparation for a response to possible influx of tsunami debris at Midway Atoll.
  • NOAA will provide information and expertise on possible monitoring methods for tsunami debris on reefs surrounding Midway.
  • USFWS will continue systematic shoreline monitoring and removal of debris on Sand and Eastern Islands in Midway Atoll.   

For More Information

The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) can provide information to individuals or groups interested in undertaking shoreline monitoring studies for Japan tsunami marine debris.  Effective monitoring of changes in environmental conditions, such as the abundance of marine debris, requires a good deal of forethought.  For more information or to request a copy of the NOAA MDP Shoreline Survey Field Guide, visit NOAA's Marine Debris website.

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