The Great East Japan Earthquake, with magnitude 9.1 (the most powerful known to have hit Japan in recorded history), struck off 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. The tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris from terrestrial and coastal environments into the Pacific Ocean (Ministry of the Environment, Japan, 2012) – an amount in the range of the global debris input to the ocean per year. It was estimated 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 ecological and biogeographic significance of this event was initially unforeseen for the Eastern North Pacific. The first confirmed instances of Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) washing up on the shores of North America occurred in March 2012, but possible impacts were not evident until June 5, 2012, when a massive floating dock from the port of Misawa (Aomori, Japan) landed on the central Oregon coast with nearly 130 living coastal Japanese species, including highly invasive plants and animals.
In 2014, PICES accepted a request from the Government of Japan to undertake a project referred to as
ADRIFT ("Assessing the Debris-Related Impacts From 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. Hideaki Maki (National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan), Dr. Thomas Therriault (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada) and Ms. Nancy Wallace (NOAA Office of Response and Restoration). 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 first PICES Visiting Scientist, Dr. Cathryn Clarke Murray. Dr. Alexander Bychkov 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 document and evaluate the potential impacts 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 associated non-indigenous species (NIS), to coastal ecosystems in Pacific North America and Hawaii.
The project focuses on three main areas of research:
A paper in Science titled “Tsunami-driven rafting: Transoceanic species dispersal and implications for marine biogeography” by J. Carlton et al. (Vol. 357, Is. 6358, pp. 1402–1406) was published on September 29, 2017 and chosen as the “journal cover article”. It was accompanied by the “perspective” essay and science (AAAS) video.
As of October 8, 2017, this research paper has an Altmetric Attention Score of top 5% of all research outputs (8.5 million) ever tracked by Altmetric and was in #1 position for all Science papers over the last 6 weeks and one of the top 5 research stories of the month of September tracked globally by Altmetric. [Altmetric is a system that tracks the attention that research outputs such as scholarly articles and datasets receive online by pulling data from traditional mainstream and field specific media, social media, blogs, etc. The Altmetric Attention Score is a quantitative measure of the quality and quantity of attention that the output has received.]
A special issue of Aquatic Invasions 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: J. Carlton and A. Fowler) was published in February 2018 as Vol. 13, Is. 1, pp. 1–186. The special issue includes the Introduction, Co-Editors’ Preface and 12 scientific papers (all Open Access) by 30+ researchers, and provides an impressive amount of information on JTMD and on invasion biology globally. The Introduction gives vignette summaries of examples of notable JTMD objects, and also details contributions (new species, new species records for Japan, and a rediscovered species – last documented in 1929) to the knowledge of Japanese and North Pacific marine biota as a result of JTMD research.
A special issue of Marine Pollution Bulletin on “The effect of marine debris caused by the Great Japan Tsunami of 2011” (edited by Cathryn Clarke Murray, Hideaki Maki, Thomas Therriault and Nancy. Wallace) was published in July 2018 as Vol. 132, pp. 1-106.
The issue includes the Introduction and 10 original research papers (all Open Access) by 30+ researchers on modeling, surveillance, monitoring, ecology and risk of species from the ADRIFT project:
C. Clarke Murray et.al ADRIFT in the North Pacific: The movement, survaillance, and impact of Japanese tsunami debris (July 16, 2018)
S. Kako et al. Sequential webcam monitoring and modeling of marine debris abundance (May 30, 2018)
N. Maximenko et al. Numerical simulations of debris drift from the Great Japan Tsunami of 2011 and their verification with observational reports (May 2, 2018)
T. Therriault et al. The invasion risk of species associated with Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris in Pacific North America and Hawaii (Feb. 1, 2018)
J. Miller et al. Trait-based characterization of species transported on Japanese tsunami marine debris: Effect of prior invasion history on trait distribution (Jan. 12, 2018)
C. Clarke Murray et al. The influx of marine debris from the Great Japan Tsunami of 2011 to North American shorelines (Jan. 10. 2018)
K. Moy et al. Mapping Patterns of Marine Debris on Coastlines of the Main Hawaiian Islands Using High-Resolution Aerial Orthoimagery and Spatial Analysis (Dec. 20, 2017)
J. Miller et al. Transoceanic dispersal of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis on Japanese tsunami marine debris: A model for evaluating rafting of a coastal species at sea (Oct. 31, 2017)
T. Kataoka et al. Quantification of marine macro-debris abundance around Vancouver Island, Canada, based on archived aerial photographs processed by projective transformation (Sept. 12, 2017)
S. Lindstrom An undescribed species of putative Japanese Pyropia first appeared on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 2015 (July 20, 2017)
T. Hanyuda et al. Genetic identification of macroalgal species on Japanese tsunami marine debris and genetic comparisons with their wild populations (July 3, 2017)
Two publications (field identification guides) are prepared to assist in detecting JTMD algal species and help prevent future invasions by these species in the Eastern North Pacific:
“Identification guide of seaweeds on Japanese Tsunami debris” by H. Kawai, T. Hanyuda and G. Hansen (2017) is available online through Kobe University, and
“Benthic marine algae on Japanese tsunami marine debris - a morphological documentation of the species” by G. Hansen, T. Hanyuda and H. Kawai) is available through Oregon State University’s online library:
Part 1: Project overview and the red algae
Part 2: The brown algae
Part 3: The green algae and cyanobacteria
JTMD species database
This database, available through the Smithsonian Institution online portal NEMESIS (National Exotic Marine and Estuarine Species Information System), provides information on the distribution, biology, ecology, life history traits and invasion history for selected species of marine invertebrates and algae from the northwestern Pacific Ocean, including those associated with JTMD that arrived to the coasts of North America and Hawaii. The database is an important resource for improving our basic understanding of species transport and attributes related to invasion success, and can contribute to risk assessments.
Please use the following citation when referencing the ADRIFT database. Nelson J.C., Murray C.C., Otani M., Liggan L., Kawai H., Ruiz G.M., Hansen G. and Carlton J.T. 2016. PICES Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris database. Accession Date: 28-Nov -2016
JTMD specimen archive
The biological collection of over 1,000 individual samples (marine invertebrates) from 650 registered JTMD objects landed in North America and Hawaii, housed at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada for long-term stewardship, will allow researchers world-wide to access this unique resource in years to come, especially with the undoubted advance of new analytical techniques. Additional funding for this effort was provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada through a grant from the Priorities and Partnership Fund to PICES.
The archive deposition is "in progress" and will be completed in 2018. For an update on the progress, please contact Dr. Henry Choong (Curator, RBCM Invertebrate Zoology).
Recognizing the existence of vast, uninhabited shorelines where JTMD could have made landfall, systematic aerial photographic 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 important baselines of marine debris and complementing previous similar efforts in Alaska.
Products from aerial surveys of the British Columbia outer coast and the main Hawaiian Islands are available for other researchers and managers to use through publicly-accessible online sources:
Modeling studies in support of research on impact of alien species transported by marine debris from the 2011 Great Tohoku Tsunami in Japan (2014–2017)
PIs: N. Maximenko (University of Hawaii, USA), M. Kamachi (JAMSTEC, Japan) and A. MacFadyen (NOAA, USA)
Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) and alien species invasions:
PICES interception of non-native species on JTMD and genetic, morphological, and parasitological analyses of
JTMD North American and Japanese vouchers (2014–2017)
PI: G. Ruiz (Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, USA)
Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) and alien species invasions: Molecular identification species on JTMD and DNA barcoding of Japanese vouchers (2014–2017)
PI: J. Geller (Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, USA)
Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) and alien species invasions: Biological sampling and characterization of JTMD (2014–2017)
PI: J. Chapman (Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, USA)
Marine algae arriving on Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) and their invasion threat to the coasts of Oregon and Washington, USA (2014–2017)
PI: G. Hansen (Oregon State University, USA)
Development of life history database for Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) biota (2015–2016)
PI: J. Miller (Oregon State University, USA)
Analysis of distributional, environmental, and life history attributes of Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD) biota (2016–2017)
PI: J. Miller (Oregon State University, USA)
Hawaiian Islands marine debris aerial imagery survey (2015–2016)
PI: B. Neilson (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, USA)
Japanese marine debris aerial imagery analysis and GIS support (2016)
PIs: M. Hamnett and K. Davidson (Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative, Social Science Research Institute, USA)
Synthesizing the state of debris in Hawaii from 2015 aerial imagery and spatial analysis data (2016–2017)
PIs: M. Hamnett and K. Davidson (Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative, Social Science Research Institute, USA) and B. Neilson (DLNR, Hawaii, USA)
Surveillance and monitoring of tsunami debris
PIs: C. Murray (PICES) and N. Wallace (NOAA, USA)
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 (email@example.com) 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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, email@example.com) 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, firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.