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. banasy©

    These debris aren't totally unexpected!
    After all, there *was* a tsunami...where is it all going to go?

    December 29, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fat and Happy

    Another troll claiming the earth isn't flat. Ignore the troll. Here, have a bite of my triple cheezberger. Care for a box of doughnuts?

    December 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stuart

    Blubbertongue - They planned Pearl Harbor but how did they plan an earthquake?

    December 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    Cats have more dignity than most people I know.

    December 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mag

    I agree. Trolls are the bottom dwellers of society because they have nothing to look forward to. Thus, they seek out reactions from people to justify their existence. If we could only help educate the uninitiated web user to identify a troll, then they would disappear and burn in hell.

    December 29, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. brathead

    As i read this about a less than significant issue I wonder kind of a life you idots must have (or lack thereof) You all must be pretty pathetic to have nothing better to do than to cuss at each other, call each other trolls, etc. and talk about everything besides what the article is saying. You people sound like complete morons! This article is about trash from a tsunami what on earth does that have to do with you being gay or that you sh** yourself or that trolls are bottom dwellers. You people that have nothing better to do than to go out to a news website and post comments unrelated to the articles are really sad worthless individuals and I feel sorry for you. I happen to find the article interesting. For those of you who are posting worthy comments, thank you for not being a complete waste of space.

    December 29, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve


      December 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slewatha

      Thanks for reminding me what the article was about. I'm serious, I got lost in the craziness of the comments.

      December 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©

    Or, if CNN would pay attention to their GD "report abuse" button and delete the comments...

    December 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. salahuddin

    Two of my favorites for 2011, theruggedgent(dot)com, an awsome informative site put together by a bunch of madmen expats and a novel Along the Naktong by Joshua Lorenzo Newett. Must reads

    December 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    Congratulations, brathead, you've just done the same thing.
    What is your comment on the *story*?

    December 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rod C. Venger

    Same old song and dance for the canucks. Tennis shoes with feet in them.

    December 29, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. lazy smurf

    Huh...just found a sand yen...

    December 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • BoredSecurityGaurd.


      December 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BoredSecurityGaurd.

    Something tells me that there won't be much as far as human remains goes. Not to be morbid, or insensitive, but I am pretty sure that 99% of whatever human remains got washed into the ocean will have either benn A) Eaten, or B) decomposed....

    December 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. runner305

    And your point?

    December 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ert

    What do you mean, "not THAT radioactive"?.....sort of like "not THAT pregnant"?

    December 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMD

      Unlike pregnancy, radioactivity can occur in all intensities, from lower-than-background to higher-than-Chernobyl. Intensity times duration equals radiation exposure – this is how you determine how safe something is, radiologically-speaking. Google is your friend for stuff like this.

      December 29, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jack

    so is this debris radioactive or not? what should we do?

    December 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      Don't eat the debris.

      December 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
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