RIKUZENTAKATA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A teenager in Japan will soon be reunited with a prized possession found thousands of miles away, but most of the tsunami debris that will eventually wash up in Hawaii is trash.
Tsunami survivor Misaki Murakami, 16, lost his home more than a year ago. The teenager was shocked to hear that his souvenir soccer ball had washed up on a beach in Alaska.
"I was to transfer to another school after third-grade and my homeroom teacher and classmates gave the ball to me," said Murakami.
The ball floated more than 3,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Radar technician David Baxter found it, and his wife translated the name of a school which led them to Murakami. According to experts, this is just the beginning when it comes to the estimated 5 million tons of debris swept into the ocean. About 1.5 million tons could still be afloat.
"Those objects that are higher up in the water that are moving fast, if it catches a quick current, could actually be showing up on the shorelines right now as we speak. Then we think there's going to be debris coming over the next year or two on the West Coast and then there's a potential that it'll circle back down into Hawaii in a year or so," explained Nancy Wallace, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program.
Researchers are tracking ocean currents and winds to create the projected path.
"There's impacts to wildlife through ingestion or entanglement, there's damage to habitat. There could be economic impacts from tourism. Nobody wants to go to a beach that's full of trash," said Wallace.
As for fears that the debris could be radioactive, Wallace said NOAA is doing lots of testing just to be on the safe side.
"We think it's extremely unlikely. All the experts that we've talked to have said that because of the timing of the debris going into the water, it really missed any of the actual nuclear incident," Wallace said.
Other items from Japan's tsunami have been discovered, such as an abandoned fishing vessel found adrift last month. The Coast Guard sank the ship since the owner didn't want it. Murakami, however, is looking forward to being reunited with a piece of his past.
"It has been hard to find my own belongings after the earthquake. But I'm very happy that my soccer ball has been found and is coming back to me," Murakami said.
The soccer ball will likely be the first tsunami item returned to its owner in Japan.