Tsunami debris spotted along West Coast
Debris is littered along the Japanese coast months after a tsunami and earthquake struck the island nation.
December 29th, 2011
12:21 PM ET

Tsunami debris spotted along West Coast

Ten months after a tsunami devastated parts of Japan, some of the island nation’s debris has washed up on North American shores, according to news reports.

On Vancouver Island, B.C., The Sun newspaper reported that wreckage from Japan began appearing this month. "In or around Dec. 5th the first item or two of some consequence was found," Tofino Mayor Perry Schmunk told the newspaper. "Some lumber came ashore that had Japanese export stamps on it."

Two weeks ago, CNN affiliate KIRO in Seattle showed video footage of what it said was debris from the March 11 tsunami - at least 10 Japanese buoys - on the Washington coast. “That’s about as good as the evidence gets for first arrivals,” retired oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer told KIRO.

More reports of mundane Japanese items - such as bottles and toothbrushes - popping up along North American shores are beginning to emerge.

But that’s just the beginning, experts say.

Physicist Michio Kaku said Thursday that it is vital to understand the sheer size of the Japanese debris field in the Pacific Ocean.

[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/12/29/nr-tsunami-debris-on-us-shores.tvasahi"%5D

“First, you have to understand the size and scope of this problem. The debris field from this Japanese tragedy is the size of the state of California,” he said.

The recent findings have not come without debate. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has denied that the debris can be definitively traced back to the tsunami. "Fingerprinting it back is challenging," NOAA's Peter Jackson told CBS News.

But scattered news reports along the Pacific coast paint a different picture:  A man found seven white Styrofoam floats shaped like 55-gallon drums in late September, Alaskan news station KTVA reported recently. The man sent photos of the floats to Ebbesmeyer, who said they were linked with oyster farms in Japan.

Hawaiian researchers are preparing studies that may allow more precise forecasts of the debris field spawned from the March 11 tsunami.

Tsunami debris in Hawaii at 2013? Maybe sooner

While the significance of the floating mass has yet to be fully understood by scientists, there is concern about what hazardous materials are out there.

Radioactivity will be of minimal concern despite the damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – “The debris is not that radioactive,” Kaku said - but the worst-case scenario could mean large boats and unmanageable clots of trash ramming into sensitive areas such as coral reefs or blocking navigation routes into Hawaii and along the U.S. West Coast.

"The first problem is hazardous materials, then we have toxic chemicals and also human body parts, sad to say," Kaku said Thursday. "Realize that over 3,700 Japanese are still unaccounted for and are expected to have been washed into the Pacific Ocean."

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Environment • Japan • U.S. • World
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. mahdeealoo

    Does this debris include radioactivity or radioactive items?

    December 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ruth

      I would imagine that since the Tsunami waters receded into the ocean way before the problems with the nuclear power plants, that what washed into the ocean couldn't be radioactive.

      December 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. aiquoy

    Everything is radioactive because everything is decaying at a certain rate. The only difference is the level of radiation given off by the object, hence "not that radioactive". The Sun is bombarding the Earth with more radiation than humans could ever create.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Which is why the ozone hole that so many think "doesn't exist" is a big deal.

      December 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ruth

    "The recent findings have not come without debate. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has denied that the debris can be definitively traced back to the tsunami. "Fingerprinting it back is challenging," NOAA's Peter Jackson told CBS News." This is one thing I don't understand about American people, why are we constantly challenging things such as this? Why in the world would it be denied that it can be traced back to the tsunami and for what purpose would it be denied? Whole villages and small towns were washed inland and then sucked back out into the ocean. That debris has been floating for many many months and is bound to end up somewhere. Why in the world would we waste time investigating the obvious and why in the world deny it?

    December 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. heather

    Brainchip is a perfect example of what happens when you let homeless people use the internet for free at the library. Someone once asked what would happen if all the rambling homeless were actually talking to each other. Now we know, they will talk to us instead.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Eradicate Cheese Fromunda

    Ruth, you're right! What, they think these people want their toothbrushes back? Now there will be a long, drawn out explanation about why, yes indeed they want their toothbrushes back...save it. Stfu.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ruth

      And of course, the tax payer will foot the bill for them to analyze the debris....

      December 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sad day

    Watch out for radioactive materials on the beach. you pick it up. Mutant hits west coast.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. blogger 1

    @Heather. You mentioned lazy drunks and druggies who hired a late night TV lawyer, sued the social security administration for denying their early disability claim, and now get about 900 bucks/mo plus co-pay pharmaceuticals. Yeah. Some of them hang-out online at libraries.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    @blogger1:
    I don't know about the libraries in *your* town, but in mine, we have strict rules against drunken druggie, and they're *enforced*.
    Not to mention time limits; but I get the gist of what you're trying to say....

    December 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. heather

    What I mentioned was a joke by a comedian. What you mentioned is your own rant. Own it, buddy.

    December 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. heather

    I mentioned the homeless, too, asshat.

    December 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cam

    What a load of sh1t! That's not gung, Joey, OR banasy. I'll be glad when school resumes.

    December 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Campagnolo

    Its all safe for collection which is good . Now we can get back all of our materials for free instead of paying for our own materials

    December 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. THE ONE AND ONLY DRAKOREX1

    I NEED A BOAT, MAYBE I CAN FIND ONE ALONG THE COAST ,THAT WOULD BE A GOOD FIXER UPPER!

    December 29, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. layminister herman

    Interesting toilet paper wipes but GUNG HOE HASNT BEEN ON BOARDS ALL AFTERNOON!you ask how I know he lives with me and he didnt feel like playing with school children!I realize that you are out of school and the weather is bad but dont you have something you could do than posting under other peoples names I E gung hoe banasy c banasy@ You are to uneducated to realize but I know when you post under my friends names and they do to!So why dont you go and spend some quality time in your books and come back better educated and then you may have enough inteligence to think off something more inteligent to discuss.Its just a thought and I know Im just blowing smoke in the wind because your just to stupid to take any advise!

    December 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. layminister herman

    @ drak whats going on bro.Hey ya know go to the coast and might be able to scam a isusu or toyota!

    December 29, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
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