NOAA this week announced that $250,000 in grants has been made available through its marine debris program to five states impacted by debris from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami.
Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii will receive up to $50,000 each to use toward marine debris removal efforts. The funds could be released as soon as the end of this month.
"We continue to actively work with the states and other federal agencies to address the challenges associated with tsunami debris," said Nancy Wallace, director of NOAA's marine debris program. "We are pleased to be able to contribute funds to support states' efforts to respond to and remove marine debris, including disposal fees, cleanup supplies, and dumpster rentals. We remain dedicated to continuing our work with the states and others to address contingency planning, monitoring and research."
NOAA and other federal agencies have been assisting the West Coast states in planning how to handle above normal amounts of marine debris. Federal partnership efforts also include collecting and sharing data, assessing the debris, and mitigating risk to navigational safety.
The Japanese government estimated that the tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean and that about 70 percent sank shortly after.
The remaining 1.5 million tons dispersed far across the North Pacific Ocean in an area of the North Pacific Ocean roughly three times the size of the lower 48 states.
Modeling indicates that the bulk of the debris is scattered and may continue to disperse north of the Main Hawaiian Islands and east of Midway Atoll.
A portion of the debris has already begun to reach United States. and Canadian shores, and more is expected to continue over the next several years.
In addition to supporting state planning, NOAA has established a public email reporting system for suspected pieces of tsunami debris. As marine debris is an on-going problem, it can be difficult to determine the source of debris without unique identifying information, and NOAA is working with the Japanese government to identify such items when possible. As of July 12, NOAA has received 529 reports, of which 10 have been confirmed as originating from the tsunami event.
NOAA has also held series of public briefings throughout the Pacific West Coast and in Hawaii for local officials, non-governmental organizations, and the general public; established monitoring sites along the coast; and partnered with commercial and recreational shippers and fishers to report any debris at sea.
The public should notify local authorities of any significant sightings of marine debris at sea or on shore, and also may report such information to firstname.lastname@example.org. The public also should report to local authorities any piece of debris containing or covered with marine life or growth so that authorities can determine if they are native or invasive species.