Tsunami debris contingency plan to be voted on

Published: Mar. 20, 2012 at 10:14 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 20, 2012 at 10:24 PM HST
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Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, NOAA Marine Debris Program
Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, NOAA Marine Debris Program
Tom Berg, Honolulu City Councilmember
Tom Berg, Honolulu City Councilmember

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some of our viewers on Facebook have been asking questions about what's being done to stop the tsunami debris from hitting Hawaii's shores.  It seems the Honolulu City Council has been wondering the same thing.  Some council members want to start planning for damage now and figuring out who should pay for the cleanup.

"What is being done to stop/clean up the 25 million tons of Japan's tsunami debris floating toward the US shores before it gets here and ruins our coastline, reefs, fish, mammals, etc?" asked Randy Horne, on the HawaiiNewsNow Facebook page.

We took the question to experts with NOAA who first point out there isn't 25 million tons of trash floating around. Revised estimates say about 5 million tons of debris went into the water and about 1.5 million tons are still on the ocean's surface.  Most of that debris will not hit Hawaii and may break up or sink.  And the rubbish no longer looks like huge patches of floating rubbish which actually complicates things.

"Unfortunately if we were talking about a very concentrated blanket or patch out in the pacific ocean potentially that would be something that is easily cleanable but because it's not and it's spread across a very vast area of the north pacific ocean really cleanup on that scale doesn't look to be feasible," said Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, NOAA Marine Debris Program.

NOAA has discussed a variety of possibilities to prevent the damage, even stringing nets off shore to catch the debris but that isn't feasible either.

"If you strung a net across a coastline how many animals would it catch versus how many pieces of debris might it prevent from coming ashore. One thing you have to remember is this debris is not going to come in one giant wave it's going to come over a long period of time. It may be nothing it may be a lot right now we really don't know," said Morishige.

"Prevention is really tough in this case. We would have to have some way to monitor the horizon around all of our coastlines to be able to see something coming so that that item can be prevented. If it were as easy as all the debris being in one particular spot and we could boom it off like they do oil and then go and remove it well that's one thing," said Morishige. "This is the first time something like this has happened so we are writing the playbook as we go along in responding to and addressing this debris."

And what happens when the rubbish hits the Papahanaumokuakea the Northwest Hawaiian Marine National Monument? Councilman Tom Berg wonders who will go through it? Where will the trash be disposed of? Will it be checked for radiation? Should Japan help pay for costs or take the debris back?

"By all means ask if Japan wants to provide some assistance, it wouldn't hurt," said Tom Berg, Honolulu City Councilmember.

He wants to float these ideas now rather than after the fact.

"We're not just going to let it accumulate with garbage and debris.  What are we going to do with it and who gets it? If it goes there who gets it? Does it go to Big Island? Should it go to Maui? Does it come to Oahu? Those are the things we need to coordinate with the feds, the state, the counties and I just don't believe we have all those answers that will satisfy the public.  Let's be prepared now rather than after the fact scrambling what do we do with this stuff.  Let's get our act together before it does happen," said Councilman Berg.

The council will vote on the tsunami debris resolution Wednesday March 21.

NOAA is also asking help from anyone who spots what could be tsunami debris in the Pacific Ocean to contact them with coordinates and a picture if possible. For more information click here.

You can also find more information at the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Joint Information Center.

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