Baseline monitoring efforts will help us understand the effects of tsunami debris on the West Coast.
The tsunami created by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan swept approximately 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean, some of which is on a steady path toward the western coast of the United States.
As debris items begin to reach our shores, it’s vital that we fully understand the potential impact of this marine debris on ocean ecosystems and the people and communities who depend on them.
Thanks to more than two decades of data from the International Coastal Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy already has a sense of how much trash washes ashore at many locations along the West Coast.
That’s why we’ve been asked to partner with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as they ramp up efforts to research and monitor the tsunami debris moving across the Pacific.
In Hawaii, NOAA has been testing aircraft and satellite capabilities to find debris in the open ocean. On Alaska’s fragile and remote coastline, the agency deployed a crew of scientists to monitor where debris is coming ashore.
NOAA has also established approximately 60 marine debris monitoring sites along the West Coast to identify ocean trash baselines that potential future tsunami debris events can be measured against. They’ve provided shoreline monitors with official protocol and observational guidelines as well as tools like GPS devices and waterproof cameras.
Jennifer Savage, Ocean Conservancy’s North Coast Program Coordinator, is one of the many participants in NOAA’s shoreline monitoring program.
“There are so many unanswered questions: Where will the debris land? When will it hit? How much will there be?” Savage says. “But by doing things like baseline monitoring, modeling and outreach in communities, we’ll be better prepared to deal with what might come ashore.”
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was a natural disaster – unavoidable, unpredictable and unpreventable. But the trash that enters our ocean after falling from human hands is preventable.
We can help ensure the ocean’s resilience by keeping trash from reaching the ocean in the first place. Anyone can start today by making little changes that add up to a big impact over time.
Learn how you can help stop ocean trash and protect special places across the ocean.