JANUARY 2012

Federal agencies track Japan tsunami debris

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies are teaming up to document and track potential marine debris generated by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March.

It is estimated that the United States will see debris hit the west coast by March 2013.

EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue a monthly bulletin to keep key stakeholders informed about tsunami debris activities, an effort resulting from an EPA lead marine debris workshop held in Honolulu.

The workshop, part of the regular Oceania Regional Response Team meeting, explored options for a coordinated response to the tsunami debris. The ORRT, comprised of federal, state and U.S. Territory agencies, has an area of responsibility that includes Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Follow up meetings resulted in a coordinated strategy for reporting of debris sightings. An advisory was issued to United States flag vessels at the end of September by the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) requesting voluntary reporting of significant debris sightings in the open ocean to better characterize the extent and nature of the debris field.

“EPA and NOAA’s efforts with our federal and state partners will paint a clearer picture of the amount of debris that may be floating on the ocean,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “The federal government needs to be prepared to take action if tsunami debris poses navigational hazards or washes up on our shores.”

In March 2011 the Japanese tsunami released debris estimated to be in the millions of tons into the Pacific Ocean. University of Hawaii scientists have developed computer models that predict debris from the tsunami could potentially reach Hawaii by March 2012 and the United States West Coast by March 2013.