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An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

What to Do If You Find Marine Debris from the Japan Tsunami

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Midway Atoll beach with fishing float.

During a recent trip to Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, NOAA Marine Debris Program staff, in partnership with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, examined the beaches for significant or unusual marine debris items, which may be related to the Japan tsunami. None were found. (NOAA Marine Debris Program/Carey Morishige)

Ever since the first few items—an unmanned fishing boat, a childhood soccer ball—from the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami began turning up in North America, people have been asking what they should do if they find something themselves.

If you see small, disposable debris, such as bottles, aluminum, or Styrofoam, remove it from the beach and recycle or dispose of it properly.

If you suspect that the marine debris you found may be from the Japan tsunami (which is very difficult to tell), let us know! Email DisasterDebris@noaa.gov to report it to the NOAA Marine Debris Program, with as much information as possible.

You can view a NOAA map [PDF] (generated using our nifty ERMA® tool) of all of the debris possibly related to the tsunami reported to NOAA since December 2011. This includes both potential and confirmed tsunami marine debris sightings, and we provide close-up maps [PDF] for each of the Pacific coast states as well. However, out of hundreds of sightings, only 10 have confirmed connections to the Japan tsunami.

Some pieces of marine debris may be too big (for example, a 66 foot long concrete dock) or too hazardous to handle. In this case, leave the debris alone (it could be a safety risk) and report it to the local authorities, depending on where you live.

If you are in Oregon, you can find dozens of designated disposal stations along Oregon beaches where you can drop off bags of tsunami debris. And, the state of Oregon says, “If you see debris larger than what you can put in a bag—tires, refrigerators, and so on—don’t bring it to the disposal station. Report its location by calling 211 (1-800-SAFENET).”

For Washington residents, you can call 1-855-WACOAST (or 1-855-922-6278) to report oil, hazardous items, floating debris items that might pose a boating or navigation hazard to the National Response Center and Washington Department of Ecology. They will also give instructions for reporting debris that is not large or hazardous.

If an item you find appears to have sentimental value to its previous owner, we ask that you move the item to a safe place and email us details at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov. The NOAA Marine Debris Program website has a full set of guidelines for how to handle different types of debris. And the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has a similar handy pocket guide [PDF] for when you may be combing the beach for debris.

Author: Office of Response and Restoration

The National Ocean Service's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific solutions for marine pollution. A part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), OR&R is a center of expertise in preparing for, evaluating, and responding to threats to coastal environments. These threats could be oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, or marine debris.

4 thoughts on “What to Do If You Find Marine Debris from the Japan Tsunami

  1. i started finding new types and quantitys of debris in the prince of wales is area dec 2011. ihave a 33′ landing craft with 7.5’x21′ cargo bay. any chance for a contract recovering, hauling?

    • Thanks for letting us know, Scott! Right now, the best way to help would be to report marine debris items or significant accumulations potentially related to the tsunami to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov with as much information as possible (including its location, the date and time you found it, photos, and any relevant descriptions). It is important to remember that not all debris found on U.S. shorelines is from Japan, so please use your discretion when reporting items. In addition, you can help us monitor these changes in the amount and type of marine debris washing up in Alaska. NOAA is working to gather baseline data on what’s already out there so that we know when that change happens. If you would like us to send you the NOAA Marine Debris Program shoreline monitoring protocols, please contact MD.monitoring@noaa.gov.

  2. Is there specific contact information for Hawaii? I’d love to be able to share that information.

  3. Hi Catherine, at this time there is no specific hotline to report possible tsunami debris items in Hawaii. But you are more than welcome to point people to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov. Thanks!

    You can also see all of the potential tsunami debris sightings reported to NOAA for Hawaii and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as of August 2, 2012.

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