Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.

This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.


Heal the Bay Answers Your Questions About Tsunami Debris From Japan Washing Ashore

Photo by Renee Rendler-Kaplan via the LAist Featured Photos pool
Before you
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all. Your tax-deductible financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls. We believe when reliable local reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the tsunami in Japan this Sunday. In anticipation of the anniversary, Heal the Bay says it has been fielding a lot of questions about what has happened to the estimated 20-25 million tons of debris that flooded into the ocean that day.The Santa Monica-based environmental nonprofit sent out a set of answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the debris: Yes, some of the debris from the tsunami could make it across the ocean. Then again, debris from Asia washes ashore all the time. And no, you're probably not going to see a dead body from Japan wash ashore.

Here are a few more of the FAQs the group sent out, in a statement:

Will tsunami-related debris hit Southern California shores?
Beachgoers may notice a gradual increase in debris nearshore and on Southern California beaches over the next few years, but it will likely be difficult to differentiate tsunami-debris from trash that normally flows from land-based sources and washes up onto our beaches. Satellites tracking the initial floating debris field find it to have dissipated and dispersed. Winds and ocean currents scatter items in patterns that are difficult to predict. Scientists believe some of the debris may eventually reach Southern California. Tracking expeditions are underway to scout for tsunami-related debris by groups like 5 Gyres, which will be sharing their findings with NOAA, other scientists and the public. When do we expect to first see it?
Wind, waves and ocean currents make it difficult to predict an exact date and location for tsunami debris’ arrival on our shores. Beachgoers in Alaska and Washington have already reported a few incidents of debris, such as buoys, reaching shorelines that may have come from the tsunami. However, scientists have not confirmed that these items are tsunami-related. Buoys and floats from Asia often wash up on our shores, so it’s very difficult to identify the exact source of these items. Not every item found on the beach with Asian writing is from the Japan tsunami. Marine debris in Southern California is an everyday problem, stemming from urban runoff and ocean sources throughout the Pacific.

Is the tsunami debris radioactive?
It’s highly unlikely that any tsunami-related debris is radioactive, according to scientific consensus. It’s improbable that most of the debris came into contact with radioactivity associated with leaks at crippled nuclear power plants in Japan. Debris from the tsunami came from a large stretch of coastal Japan, while the leak from the damaged Fukushima reactor occurred in one location. Additionally, there was no likely source of debris exposure to radiation. When the radioactive leak developed, the bulk of the debris had already flowed offshore. Furthermore, results from monitoring conducted on debris found at sea from the Fukushima region in September showed no radioactivity.

If you see any waste that might be tsunami-related, you can a take a picture of it and send it on to Heal the Bay. If there's a lot of debris that's obviously from Japan, report it to NOAA. If it looks hazardous, use common sense: don't touch it and call it into local emergency agencies. For more information, call Heal the Bay at 310-451-1500