Tsunami Debris Threatens California

Tsunami Debris Threatens California

Debris left from the 2011 tsunami in Japan may deposit invasive species on the north coast of California as a result of this week’s storm, the Eureka Times-Standard reports. An area off the coast called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains much garbage left from the tsunami, and winter storms pushing south can send the debris in California’s way.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program California Regional Coordinator Sherry Lippiatt told the Times-Standard that the Japanese Consulate has confirmed that boats found near Crescent City and Big Lagoon were tsunami debris. The NOAA has stated that 5 million tons of debris from the tsunami wound up in the ocean, and about 70% of that debris sank near Japan’s coast.

John Chapman, an Oregon State University marine invasive species specialist, told the Times-Standard of the danger of invasive species arriving amidst the debris. He said: “The risk of introduced species on this coast is significant … Every introduced species has this enormous potential to do great harm. We are not looking for water buffalo; we are looking for little tiny things. A parasite, for instance, can have enormous effects by killing off its host.”

Chapman noted that Humboldt Bay had huge numbers of shrimp but an Asian parasite devastated the population decades ago. He commented, “they are now a native species that is on an extinction trajectory.” He added that the winter storms expected to hit California could trigger an explosive problem, saying, “It will come in a storm. This is the kind of weather.”

Last spring, scientists discovered that roughly 30 fishing vessels from Japan had been deposited along the Pacific Northwest coast with species aboard that were indigenous to Asia. Chapman stated that Blue mussels were found on almost every boat, and roughly 200 different species have been found on tsunami debris.

Lippiatt wants the public to help by picking non-hazardous trash while reporting garbage that looks dangerous. She told the Times-Standard, “Large storms tend to increase the amount of debris on shorelines, in general, just as things get washed down the watersheds. It has been four years now, the debris that is floating out there has had a lot of time to disperse, but I wouldn’t particularly be surprised if we saw some tsunami debris over the course of this winter or even in this storm.”

Image: Chris Pallister/AP