It’s not a matter of if, but when.
According to local marine experts, the debris from the tsunami that hit Japan a year and a half ago will start washing up on shore at some point in the near future. Some debris has already arrived in Washington and Oregon.
Now one Alaska senator is asking for $45 million, introducing a bill that would dedicate that money to tsunami debris clean-up.
But the federal government is largely putting that funding responsibility on officials at the state level.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA, is a federal government agency that’s giving five states $50,000 each, including California. That amount wouldn’t have been enough to cover the removal costs of a 66-foot long steel and concrete dock that washed from Japan onto an Oregon shore – the Parks Department there spent $84,000 getting rid of it.
NOAA has started to track marine debris, with clean-ups in places like Bodega Bay. They are counting the trash they find to monitor potential spikes, which could mean a wave of tsunami trash.
There are sometimes volunteers on hand who are fluent in Japanese to identify where the debris is really from, volunteers like Miki Takada.
“A lot of debris we get people aren’t sure whether it’s from China or some other Asian country or Japan, so I think it would help to be able to identify where it’s from.”
Helmut Fritz just bought the Davenport Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn a few months ago. He says the beautiful scenery attracts many tourists who make up roughly 75-percent of his business. Fritz is worried a potential trash pile-up will deter tourists and slam his business.
Michael Beck says Fritz has good reason for the concern. Beck is the lead marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy, and responsible for planning how to reduce the tsunami debris impacts. He says places like Davenport and Big Sur are especially in danger of debris piling out of control because a lot of the coastline is rocky, hard to access in case trash begins to wash up.
“Where people don’t often go and where state parks don’t often go to pick up things, that trash will be sitting on those beaches potentially for a long time,” Beck said.
Experts worry the risks reach well beyond hurting local economies, posing a danger to public health and safety.
“Some of the biggest concerns that we have are kinds of things that float really well are gas cans and propane tanks, even needles and some hospital waste,” said Beck.
Fritz says he is not waiting around to take chances. He has already started to collect donations for beach clean-ups, tsunami-related – or not.
“It’s one of the most wonderful places in the world,” he says. “And that’s the way we want to keep it.”
California has not set aside anything for tsunami debris clean-up. The state’s emergency management agency says it’s up to the local government to take care of funding them. The only time state funding will come into play is if the governor declares a state of emergency.