HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health is offering grant money for projects to clean up marine debris, with an emphasis on debris originating from the March 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan.
Some of the tsunami debris has been big, including a four-foot plastic chest recovered off Waimanalo, a skiff found far north of Maui, and a similar boat, which was smashed against the rocks just outside Kahana Bay off Windward Oahu. However, a lot of marine debris -- from Japan or otherwise -- is small.
"It's been chewed in the ocean," said Gary Gill, DOH deputy director for environmental health. "It's been pulverized. It's now little bits of plastic and Styrofoam. And that's actually more dangerous to the environment than if it were a large boat or a barge."
That's why the health department is using $100,000 in grant money from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund non-profit, mostly volunteer groups and organizations that already do beach cleanups.
According to NOAA, the bulk of tsunami debris is forecast to approach the west coast of the mainland U.S. this year, and then circle back toward the Hawaiian Islands around 2014 to 2016. The state wants to start recording what's coming in now.
"Both department's ideas is to create a baseline of data early on so we can measure differences as the balance of the Japanese marine debris makes its way to Hawaii over the next ten years or so," said William Aila, DLNR chairperson.
The health department is requesting proposals from individuals, groups and organizations who may want the money for equipment or personnel to help collect and record the debris, and to educate the public about it -- even as more tsunami debris comes in.
"We would like to support that ongoing effort to clean up the beaches and to collect data so we know what kind of debris is coming in statewide," said Gill.
"We don't know what's coming," said Aila. "We don't know how big, we don't know when. We don't know if it has invasive species on it. That would be one of the greatest concerns for us in Hawaii."
There are have been seven confirmed pieces of tsunami debris in Hawaii. Aila said the latest findings included a refrigerator that was located in the Hanauma Bay area and a large yellow fishing buoy found off Kauai.
Grant application details are available at www.hawaii.gov/health/epo. The deadline to apply is March 8.