The Great East Japan Earthquake, with magnitude 9.1, struck off Japan’s Tōhoku coast on March 11, 2011, and triggered a massive tsunami wave that surged inland across kilometres of shoreline. This event was a natural disaster of staggering proportions, causing loss of human life, property destruction and environmental damage. More than 15,000 people tragically lost their lives, over 2,500 were reported missing, and more than 6,000 were injured.
With the tsunami, about 5 million tons of debris swept from the land and coastal systems into the ocean. The Government of Japan estimates that 70% of that debris sank close to shore, leaving 1.5 million tons floating in the North Pacific with the potential to arrive on North American and Hawaiian coastlines.
The first confirmed instances of Japanese tsunami debris washing up on the shores of North America occurred in March 2012. Since then, over 1600 debris sightings have been reported, of which many pieces could be confirmed as Japanese-origin tsunami debris. This includes two large concrete docks, originally from Misawa, Japan, that were found on beaches in Oregon and Washington (with a number of non-native species attached) and more than 200 small boats, many of which have been confirmed as lost during the tsunami. The North American coast already endures marine debris from terrestrial and aquatic sources, but there may be additional impacts from the increase in abundance and differing debris types due to the tsunami.
Aside from the impacts of additional marine debris itself, there is the possibility of debris carrying coastal Japanese species to North American coasts. The two docks together had hundreds of Japanese species and tens of thousands of individuals attached, alive, and some reproductively active. Many of the species were not known previously from North America and have the potential to invade coastal ecosystems. For example, species of sea stars, hydroid , mussels and fish collected from tsunami debris have been confirmed as non-native to the Pacific coast of North America.
In 2014, PICES accepted a request from the Government of Japan to undertake a 3-year project referred to as
ADRIFT (Assessing the Debris-Related Impact of Tsunami” to be funded by the Ministry of the Environment of
Japan (MoE). The project lifetime was 3 years: April 15, 2014 – March 31, 2017, and total funding for this
period was $3,681,547 CAD.
The project was directed by a Project Science Team (PST) made up of researchers from Canada, Japan, the United States and the PICES Secretariat, and co-chaired by three PICES members: Dr. Thomas Therriault, (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada; Thomas.Therriault@dfo-mpo.gc.ca), Dr. Hideaki Maki (National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan; firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ms. Nancy Wallace (NOAA Office of Response and Restoration; email@example.com). The PST Co-Chairs were responsible for the scientific implementation of the project and annual reporting to MoE and PICES Science Board. They were strongly supported by the PICES Visiting Scientist, Dr. Cathryn Clarke Murray (firstname.lastname@example.org). Dr. Alexander Bychkov (email@example.com) served as the Project Coordinator and was responsible for the management of the fund and for reporting annually on its disposition to MoE and PICES Governing Council.
The overall project goal was to assess and forecast the effects of debris generated by the tsunami that followed the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (termed Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris or JTMD), especially those related to non-indigenous species (NIS), on ecosystem structure and function, the coastlines, and communities of the Pacific coast of North America and in Hawaii, and to suggest research and management actions to mitigate any impacts.
The project focuses on three main areas of research:
PICES JTMD species database
This database on the Smithsonian Institution online portal NEMESIS (National Exotic Marine and Estuarine Species Information System) provides detailed information on the distribution, biology, ecology, life history traits and invasion history of the invertebrate and algae species associated with debris originating from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and is an important resource for improving our basic understanding of species transport, attributes related to invasion success, and can contribute to risk assessments.
JTMD specimen collection archive
The collection and processing of over 650 registered JTMD items produced more than 1,000 individual samples (marine invertebrates) in museum-quality glass jars. Considerable curatorial effort was focused on establishing the JTMD Biodiversity Archive for long-term stewardship at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada (contact: Dr. Henry Choong, Curator, Invertebrate Zoology; firstname.lastname@example.org). This archives will allow future researchers to have access to this unique resource, especially with the undoubted advance of new analytical techniques in years to come.
Systematic aerial surveys were conducted to search for, and quantify, JTMD arriving on the coastlines of British Columbia and Hawaii. These surveys were the first comprehensive debris evaluation in these two regions providing an important baseline of marine debris, and complemented similar efforts conducted previously in Alaska. Products from these surveys are available online for others to use:
Special issues of Aquatic Invasions (http://www.aquaticinvasions.net/ on “Transoceanic dispersal of marine life from Japan to North America and the Hawaiian Islands as a result of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011” (Guest Editors: Dr. James Carlton and Amy Fowler) – a collection of papers on the taxonomy of species associated with Japanese tsunami marine debris from research funded by the Oregon Sea Grant in 2012-2013, National Science Foundation in 2013-2014, and the ADRIFT project. The expected publication date - late 2017.
A special issue of Marine Pollution Bulletin (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/marine-pollution-bulletin) on “The Effect of Marine Debris caused by the Great Tsunami of 2011” (Guest Editor: Cathryn Clarke Murray, Hideaki Maki, Thomas Therriault and Nancy Wallace) – a collection of papers on modeling, surveillance, monitoring, ecology and risk of species from the ADRIFT project. The expected publication date - late 2017.
Winter 2017, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 32–35 Webcam monitoring and modeling of Japanese tsunami marine debris.
Winter 2017, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 36–39 Mapping patterns of marine debris in the main Hawaiian Islands using aerial imagery and spatial analysis.
Summer 2016, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 26–27 The Little Green Bucket’s 10,000 mile journey.
Winter 2016, Vol 24, No. 1, pp. 24–28 The mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis on Japanese tsunami marine debris: A potential model species to characterize a novel transport vector.
Summer 2015, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 32–36 Modeling the drift of marine debris generated by the 2011 tsunami in Japan.Winter 2015, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 28–30
The impact of Japanese tsunami debris on North America.
Headquarters for Ocean Policy, Government of Japan
Action of Japan to the drifting matters washed out by the March 11 Earthquake (so-called '3.11 Tsunami Debris')
NOAA Marine Debris Program [Link]
International Pacific Research Center: Marine and Tsunami Debris
Oregon State University [Link]
Mystic-Williams College [Link]
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC): Marine Invasions Research Lab
State of Alaska DEC Japan Tsunami Debris Survey
The Clam that Sank A Thousand Ships - Dec 5, 2016
Hakai Magazine [Link]
Photo Data Supports A Variety of Activities - July 19, 2016
DataBC - Blog [Link]
BC coast to see historic cleanup of marine debris as Japanese tsunami money runs out â€" July 20, 2016
Vancouver Sun [Link]
More marine debris hitting Niihau than any other isle - June 1, 2016
Honolulu Star-Advertiser [Link]
Aerial surveys document ocean debris around Hawaii - May 31, 2016
ABC News [Link]
Debris peppered with plastic - June 1, 2016
The Garden Island [Link]
Taking stock of marine debris; Survey finds 2,200 pieces on Big Island shores - June 1, 2016
Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii [Link]
DLNR Conducts 1st Aerial Survey of Marine Debris - June 1, 2016
Hawaii Public Radio [Link]
Plastic Dominates Hawaii Marine Debris, Survey Shows - May 31, 2016
Big Island Video News [Link]
Statewide Survey of Marine Debris Shows Plastic is Most Prevalent: Aerial Survey Targeted At Japan Tsunami Marine Debris
Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) Video news release [Link]
Japan tsunami marine debris: A look back five years later - 11 March, 2016
By: Nancy Wallace, director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Project Co-Chair
Marine life taken global by tsunami trash - Wednesday 30 March 2016
Radio New Zealand. Nine to Noon.
How the Japanese tsunami sent marine invaders across the ocean - and why you should be worried. By Emma Johnston and Jim Carlton - January 17, 2016
The Conversation [Link]
Strangers on the Shore by Larry Pynn - October 21, 2015
Hakai Magazine [Link]
Mountains of debris from the Japanese tsunami have floated to the West Coast - 5 Aug 2015
Washington Post [Link]
Alaska Starts Cleaning Up Debris From Japan Spread by 2011 Tsunami - 12 July 2015
The New York Times [Link]
Japanese boat pieces, possible tsunami debris, to be removed – 28 April 2015
Honolulu Star-Advertiser [Link]
Boat likely washed away in 2011 tsunami washes up on Oahu beach; bins found on other islands – 26 April 2015
Greenfield Daily Reporter [Link]
More Japan Tsunami Debris Washes Up on Island Shores – 26 April 2015
Maui Now [Link]
Japan Tsunami Debris Travels to Hawai'i – 24 April 2015
Big Island Now [Link]
Suspected tsunami debris removed from beach – 24 April 2015
Honolulu Star-Advertiser [Link]
State confirms vessel found off East Oahu is tsunami debris – 24 April 2015
Fish found in suspected tsunami debris boat quarantined – 17 April 2015
Yahoo News [Link]
Fish found in suspected tsunami debris boat... 17 April 2015
Boat remains, thought to be Japanese tsunami debris, deliver Asian fish to Oregon Coast – 15 April 2015
Fish found in suspected tsunami debris boat... – 17 April 2015
Waterloo Record [Link]
Tsunami Boat Has Oregon Coast Officials on Lookout for Invasive Algae – 14 April 2015
Oregon Coast Beach Connection [Link]
Debris believed from Japan 2011 tsunami found along Oregon coast – 12 April 2015
Tree on Wash. coast likely Japanese tsunami debris – 7 April 2015
New Asian 'Tsunami Fish' Causes a Stir with Oregon Coast Scientists – 2 March 2015
Oregon Coast Beach Connection [Link]
Fish native to Japanese water found in Oregon crab pot – 26 Feb 2015
Japanese tsunami debris bring foreign flora and fauna to US shores. 19 Feb 2015
Monterey County Weekly [Link]
Where the world ends up when the ocean spits it out – 28 January 2015. Juneau Empire.com
Tsunami Debris Still Arriving – 24 January 2015. The Garden Island.
Japanese Researchers Visit Oregon for Marine Debris Project – 14 January 2015. Surfrider Foundation blog.
After Long, Cold Trip Across Pacific on Tsunami Debris, Sea Creatures Find Little Warmth – 12 January 2015. Wall Street Journal
Invasive mussels land on B.C. coast with Japan tsunami boat – 07 October 2013
Aerial survey reveals marine, tsunami debris widespread across Alaska coast – 05 February 2013 [Link]
Storm pounding West Coast will bring more tsunami debris – 12 December 2014
Invasive species hitchhiking to west coast on tsunami debris – 08 March 2013
Tsunami triggers invasion concerns – 06 March 2013
America threatened by sea species hitching a ride on tsunami debris – 14 October 2012 – The Telegraph [Link]
Desperate scramble to remove 'toxic' seaweed reaching U.S. shore on tsunami debris – 10 June 2012
Japan Tsunami Debris: Invasive Species Ride Debris To US Shore – 09 June 2012
Hideaki Maki (email@example.com) is a Senior Researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES). He had studied microbial degradation of crude oil in marine environments and conducted some field experiments of crude oil bioremediation. Recently, he has been monitoring water and sediment parameters relevant to hypoxia in Tokyo Bay. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, he has been involved in monitoring hydrocarbons contamination of sediments in the Tohoku coastal sea. Hideaki is the Japanese Co-Chair of the project on “Effects of marine debris caused by the Great Tsunami of 2011”, funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, and serves as a member of the PICES Marine Environmental Quality committee and Working Group on Emerging Topics in Marine Pollution.
Thomas Therriault (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Research Scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada working on a variety of invasive species issues. He is the Canadian Co-Chair of the project on “Effects of marine debris caused by the Great Tsunami of 2011”, funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, and Chairman of PICES Science Board.
Nancy Wallace (email@example.com) is the Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program, which is the federal lead for researching, preventing, and reducing the impacts of marine debris in the United States. She is the US Co-Chair of the project on “Effects of marine debris caused by the Great Tsunami of 2011”, funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, and serves a members of the PICES Working Group on Emerging Topics in Marine Pollution. Nancy has worked on ocean policy related issues for the past decade. Her work includes resource conservation with the National Park Service, developing sustainable catch limits for fisheries off the east coast of the United States and efforts to improve water quality in the Gulf of Mexico.
Alexander Bychkov (ex-officio, firstname.lastname@example.org) was the Deputy Executive Secretary of PICES from 1996–1999 and the Executive Secretary of the Organization from 1999–2014. He serves now as a Special Projects Coordinator with PICES, and the project on “Effects of marine debris caused by the Great Tsunami of 2011”, funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, is one of his primary responsibilities.
Cathryn Clarke Murray (ex-officio, email@example.com) is a Visiting Scientist with PICES on the project “Effects of marine debris caused by the Great Tsunami of 2011”, funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan. She is also Adjunct Professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Cathryn has worked with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) - Canada on the cumulative effect of human activities, with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on ecological risk assessment, and studied the spread of invasive species on marine recreational boats.