The first identifiable pieces of debris to be washed across the Pacific Ocean in the wake of last year’s tsunami in Japan, a volleyball and a soccer ball, have reached the Alaskan coast. Discovered on the remote Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, markings on the sports equipment trace their origin back to a school which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms was within the tsunami zone, though not “seriously damaged by the disaster.”
Image (cc) Official US Navy Imagery on Flickr
A Japanese ‘ghost ship,’ which floated close to North American shores a few weeks ago was a clear indicator of debris to come. As the ship was shot down by cannon fire, concerns heightened as to how much debris of the 2 million tons washed out to sea by the catastrophic tsunami would reach the western US and Canadian coasts. Doug Heldon works for the NOAA’s team monitoring the debris, and told the Anchorage Daily News that “You can see that the Gulf of Alaska is going to get high windage items, floats, Styrofoam, soccer balls. Those things could be moving pretty quickly. Wood and construction materials will be a lot slower.” Models suggest that between now and next year debris is likely to wash up in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington States.
One of the primary concerns with ocean garbage that originated at the tsunami is perceived risks that the debris could be contaminated with radiation from the nuclear fallout at Fukushima Daiicihi. The IB Times reported that “environmentalists have largely ruled out” this possibility, but that the debris could pose a threat to sea life in certain areas, particularly with trapping equipment from fishing villages caught up in amongst the debris.
It’s perfectly possible that other debris from the Japanese coast has already washed up on Alaskan shores, however without clear markings, such debris remains indistinguishable from other Pacific Ocean garbage gathering on beaches. While the soccer ball’s owners have been identified, the volleyball does not have enough information for the NOAA to return it to its original owners though “queries are continuing”. As the NOAA attempts to keep track of the debris, they encourage “[p]ersons who find an item they think may be related to the Japan tsunami are asked to take a picture, note the location and report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.”