Japanese Tsunami Debris Field Headed Our Way

Recently a Japanese fishing vessel thought to have been lost in the tsunami one year ago has been spotted of the coast of British Columbia, Canada.  Hails to the ship indicated that there is no one on board.  While it certainly is amazing that a ship could stay afloat on the high seas for one year with no crew, this ghost ship turning up on the shores of Canada bespeaks of a greater problem, that of the debris from the tsunami reaching our shores.

Some reports estimate that this ghost ship could be the first of some 1.5 million tons of debris to reach the shores of North America.  This is certainly a cause for concern, as this amount of debris could have untold effects on the coast line of North America.  Disruptions in the fishing industry as well as recreational uses of beaches could result with the arrival of the debris, leading to economic loss in an already unstable economy.

Although the possible impact remains unclear, if proper preemptive action is taken perhaps an environmental disaster could be avoided.  It is widely known that the debris is coming.  Therefore, steps can be taken to make sure that it does not reach our shores.  While a clean up on such a massive scale may be costly, the cost would likely be a minimal one compared with the economic damage that would result if the debris actually reached our shores.  What do you think should be done in this situation?  Do you think it would be worthwhile financially to make an attempt to clean up this debris before it reaches our shores?

To see a picture of the ghost ship, go to http://news.yahoo.com/photos/tsunami-debris-1330558543-slideshow/canadas-department-national-defence-photograph-japanese-fishing-vessel-photo-205210516.html


  1. It is truly remarkable that a ship could stay afloat for such a long period of time, having survived a tsunami of such great proportions. It is also rather unsettling to hear that such a large amount of debris is going to arrive on North American shores soon. Yet, there are competing interests here: environmental, economic, and financial. Surely, the economic and environmental concerns go hand-in-hand, as this debris could affect and potentially devastate fishing and tourism industries in the regions that the debris finally settles. However, for now, we will have to wait and see what the government decides is the best way to handle this growing concern. Senators from both Alaska and Washington have already asked Obama to allocate funding to emergency research groups so that they could study the debris and forecast its path, which could be an effective starting point. This research could help the government avoid spending more money in the long run if the researchers can track and pinpoint the debris in advance, thus giving the government specific regions to target the majority of the resources.

  2. I agree with the statement that its amazing a ship could stay afloat that long (although the US Coast Guard took care of that over the weekend). As far as the debris is concerned, I think that the clean up will have to be a community/volunteer effort. The debris is scattered over thousands of miles of the Pacific ocean and will not arrive in a single, large clump. Citizens along the west coast of North America will indeed need to make it a point of monitoring the build up of tsunami related debris and creating action plans to deal with the issue.

  3. If such a massive cleanup on dry land is so costly that it could further damage our already weak economy, how would a massive cleanup on the ocean be any less costly? It seems to me that if we tried to prevent the debris from reaching the U.S. coastline by stopping it while it’s still on the way, it would be more costly than cleaning it up as it reaches the shore. As Brian mentioned, citizens along the coast should be prepared to clean up the debris, but it will not reach the U.S. in one large clump. Organizing to clean up debris pieces is surely less costly than trying to clean it up before it even arrives.

  4. NOAA has a very comprehensive Q&A on the marine debris and their clean up efforts. One thing I learned from reviewing that site is that it is very unlikely that the debris is radioactive. Second, that 70% of what washed into the ocean with the tsunami sunk so this 1.5 million tons is just a small portion of what was washed away. What is floating towards the US is the lighter material that washed into the ocean. NOAA has a marine debris program which has developed a Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Assessment and Response Framework to address any risks created by the debris. They are also gathering data on sightings of the marine debris and tracking its progress as it moves towards the coast. There is even a hotline that you can contact to report a marine debris sighting. It seems that some work to preempt the possible effects of this debris is already underway.

  5. I am a commercial fisherman in Washington state, I am actively fishing dungeness crab off the coast of Washington also I am a avid beach comber. I have been seeing debris on the beach since january, mainly lumber and plastic and glass bottles. In the last month the debris is becoming more common especially off shore in the tide rips. I believe I speak for a large percent of the fishing community when I say “use us” we want to clean this stuff up out of our oceans and I speak for 100% of commercial fisherman when I say, let’s do it BEFORE it damages our already fragile fisheries and coastal Eco systems. Alas the problem is funding I cannot afford to drive around the ocean picking up trash. When I see it, I pick it up and dispose of it properly. I have emailed NOAA and the ocean conservancy requesting info on plans if any to deal with this problem. In closing I will say, the debris is here we know this, it came a lot sooner than expected and we need to get a plan in effect immediately before this becomes a huge problem with devastating effects.

  6. The situation of the Japanese fishing vessel hitting the shores of Canada presents an interesting situation. Undoubtedly, the best solution for the United States is to help the Japanese in the cleanup effort. After all, it would be a huge disaster if tsunami debris came flooding towards North America. First off, we have to care for our own shores. Second, there could be some benefits to providing humanitarian relief to Japan. The United States can always use the positive public relations benefit of assisting a foreign state. On the whole, I suggest we provide assistance.

  7. I agree with Brian Leoanrdi’s post that the clean up effort will have to be
    a community/volunteer effort. The debris could float anywhere in the thousands of miles of water. How will a team of people locate it? Based on this post, the chances of another ship being found is not likely. Without it being established by any source that another ship is somewhere in the ocean or will likely be out there, millions of dollars spent searching for one may not be the solution. While the debris may continue to wash up on the shores of many countries, will anyone be able to confirm the source of the debris? If a substantial amount of debris is found, a volunteer effort could help with the clean up.

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