Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Japanese tsunami debris expected to reach California shores

Millions of tons of debris from the tsunami in Japan are washing toward the western U.S. and could make landfall in spring, 2013.
Millions of tons of debris from the tsunami in Japan are washing toward the western U.S. and could make landfall in spring, 2013. University of Hawaii/NOAA

The catastrophic 9.0 tsunami that rocked the coast of Japan last March was more than just devastating. Destroying whole villages and reducing the Miyagi Prefecture down to little more than a pile of rubble, it also swept everything in its path – buildings, cars, boats, furniture and more – out to sea. All of which is heading directly for the shores of the western United States, including Hawaii, Washington and of course, California.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Marine Debris Program, all of that stuff (pretty much anything that floats) started showing up last September when fishing buoys from the disaster washed up here in California. The floating detritus, once moving in huge debris fields, has broken down into millions of smaller pieces headed right in our direction.

Exactly when the main mass of this junk is going to start reaching our shores, though, is anybody’s guess. Although calculations by the NOAA predict it will begin happening sometime in 2013, with the bulk of it showing up in 2014. They say that any of the debris coming up radioactive is “highly unlikely,” but are quick to warn citizens to proceed with caution if/when this debris (which could potentially contain human remains) shows up. “Avoid picking up sealed containers of chemicals” is one common-sense suggestion on the Marine Debris Program’s FAQ page). The Environmental Protection Agency is already bracing for what is sure to be a massive clean-up effort.

The U.S. government is also working with Japan to return anything of personal or sentimental value to its home country.

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