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Tsunami Debris Heads to Hawai‘i

It’s time to start planning some action.

January 26, 2012
Debra Lordan - Editor/General Manager , The Maui Weekly

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake off of the coast of Japan caused a dynamic discharge of debris into the ocean as a result of the tsunami that swept much of the northern coastline of Honshu Island.

Although the dual disasters are said to have generated an estimated 25 million tons of debris, and no estimate of exactly how much actually went into the water, how much may have sunk to the sea floor or how much is still floating has been confirmed, scientists have predicted that it is headed our way.

Although the debris is not supposed to hit Hawaiian shores until early next year, this extraordinary tragedy poses a unique set of questions and concerns we might want to start pondering now.

"Is a giant, floating, radioactive swap meet of all things Japanese heading our way?"

The original, dense debris field is now dispersed across a large area in the North Pacific, scientists tell us. There is also a consensus among them that it is highly unlikely that the flotsam is radioactive. The vast majority of the detritus, originated many miles from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which actually occurred long after the wreckage was washed out to sea.

That being said, there are many other problems that may be headed our way-in addition to the exaggerated impacts this huge contribution to "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" will have on the Pacific's ecosystem and shoreline communities.

Oceanographer Dr. Nikolai Maximenko, principal researcher of the Tsunami Debris Tracking Project team of scientists from the University of Hawai'i; Bill Francis, president of Algalita Marine Research Foundation; and others will discuss this and related topics on Friday, Feb.10, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka'anapali, hosted by Pacific Whale Foundation as part of the non-profit's "Weekend with the Experts" (

In the meantime, scientists urge boaters venturing in the area of the debris to send them details about what they see. Researchers want to know specifics, such as GPS position, time, weather and descriptions of the items.

Yes, of course there's an app for that: download the Debris Tracker smartphone application at to record, photograph and share data.

It may be over a year away, but scientists are trying to get the message across that "it is coming and it's about time to start planning some action."



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