A Japanese tsunami debris island continues to steadily float toward the U.S.
A new report by NOAA says that approximately 5 million tons of debris was sent into the ocean following the March 2011 tsunami. While Japan estimates about 30 percent of that originally floated away from shore, there are no accurate estimates of how much debris is still floating today.
A recently updated model from NOAA predicted that some very buoyant debris already reached the Pacific Northwest coast as early as winter 2011–2012, but that was not the end. The first documented piece of debris to arrive in California, a barnacle covered fishing boat, came ashore in April 2013.
The remainder of the debris is dispersed sparsely from Alaska to the Philippines, while a Texas-sized trash island is located northeast of the Hawaiian Islands and heading toward the West Coast.
NOAA is collecting observations from aircraft, vessels, and high-resolution satellites in an attempt to track where the debris may go as it crosses the ocean.
For the past several months, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and federal, state, and local partners have been preparing contingency plans that will help protect coastal communities. These plans will guide local responses in case large, hazardous, or unmanageable items need to be removed from U.S. shores.
State radiation experts have assured NOAA that it is highly unlikely any debris will be contaminated. Some debris collected along shorelines has been randomly spot-checked in Hawaii and on the West Coast, and to date, no one has detected radiation levels of concern.
NOAA predicts that debris will continue to show up on local beaches over the next year or longer.