Japan tsunami debris monitoring begins in Southern California


Heal the Bay and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have set up two debris-monitoring stations in Palos Verdes and Malibu. These spots will be examined once a month over the next two years. Any debris suspected to be from Japan will be examined and tested. Experts say debris from Japan will likely wash ashore slowly over time.

Friday's search comes after a large piece of debris showed up on Oregon's coast on Wednesday. A dock float the size of a freight train box car traveled about 5,000 miles to reach the U.S. from a fishing port in Japan. The concrete and metal dock measured 66 feet long, 7 feet tall and 19 feet wide.

The Japanese government estimates that 1.5 million tons of debris from last year's tsunami is floating in the ocean.

Officials with NOAA's National Ocean Service said that in most cases, debris removal decisions will fall to individual states. Funding hasn't been determined.

Tsunami debris is hard to monitor and track. Winds and ocean currents regularly change, and rubbish can break up.

NOAA projects the debris has likely spread over an area roughly three times the size of the contiguous United States, but the agency can't pinpoint when or how much might eventually reach the coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii.

If the debris starts to wash ashore in large swaths, experts say more funding and more resources will be needed.

"If the debris rolls in massive fields, then there will have to be a very immediate response team that will have to form and figure out how to do it on a large scale," said Sarah Sikich with Heal the Bay.

NOAA does not have such a plan in its arsenal, but it hopes to have a solid plan in place by September.

Of crucial concern are the organisms and potentially hazardous material that could be mingled in the debris. The dock float in Oregon had hundreds and millions of individual organisms, including species of crab, algae and starfish native to Japan that has never before been seen on the West Coast.

"None of the debris that's coming across has been found to be radioactive. That's highly unlikely. But we want to make sure people's minds are put at rest so we always check," said Chris Havel with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

The dock float is not the first piece of debris to wash ashore. A volleyball and soccer ball came ashore on Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a shipping container came ashore on an island off of British Columbia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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