Alaska sees huge surge in tsunami debris


An “unprecedented” surge in debris from last year’s tsunami is washing up on Alaska’s coastline, environmentalists about to embark on a major cleanup operation said Tuesday.

Floating material, including buoys and Styrofoam, has washed up on Montague Island, some 190 km southeast of Anchorage, in volumes that clearly suggest a wave of debris from the March 11, 2011, catastrophe.

“The debris found on initial surveys of the island showed an absolutely unprecedented amount of buoys, Styrofoam and other high floating debris,” said Patrick Chandler of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.

He said debris from Asia has been washing up on Alaska shores for years, so “it is incredibly difficult to say with complete confidence that a given piece of debris is from the tsunami.”

“However, we have never seen the amount we see now. In the past we would find a few dozen large black buoys, used in Japanese aquaculture, on an outside beach cleanup. Now we see hundreds,” Chandler said before the start Thursday of a planned 12-day cleanup operation.

“There is no other possible source for this increase besides the tsunami, so our conclusion is that is where it must be from,” he said

Millions of tons of debris are expected to wash up in the coming months and years from the Tohoku disaster. Researchers in Hawaii have developed computer models to forecast where and when it could come ashore.

In early April, the U.S. Coast Guard sank an unmanned Japanese trawler off Alaska more than a year after the tsunami set it adrift.