An overflow crowd showed up at Newport City Hall Thursday night to separate truth from fable. What they learned from representatives from NOAA, the Coast Guard, State Parks, State Health, Lincoln County Emergency Services and the Surfrider Foundation was that while it’s true there is a lot of Japanese Tsunami debris headed this way, the fable is that it’s going to be big stuff. The audience was told, it’ll be little stuff regardless of when, or even if most of it ever hits the west coast, and there’s plenty of evidence it probably won’t.
They say Northern Pacific water currents move very slowly in a roughly clockwise direction. A lot of the debris is caught in the middle of the circle. The only debris, they say, that’s already hit the west coast of the U.S. is that which is above the water line and is therefore like a sail that the wind blows against and pushes through the water in an easterly direction from Japan. They said some verifiable debris has already arrived on U.S. shores like a recently Coast Guard sunk Japanese fishing boat off Canada that broke loose during the tsunami.
A scientist from NOAA told the crowd that just about all the debris will be broken up into small pieces with floating crab pots and other buoyant objects being the rare exception. He said the biggest batch of debris appears poised to arrive off U.S. shores next year. He and a state health official both agreed that it is “highly unlikely” that any debris will be radioactive due to the meltdown of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. They both pointed out that it was days after the tsunami that the power station vented radioactive particles into the air and sea. Reports of slightly radioactive underwater seaweed off southern California, they say, was probably delivered by the winds, not the ocean. They added that the levels of radioactivity in the seaweed were far less than what human beings receive naturally everyday from the sun and the Earth itself.
However, the panelists were quick to add that no one knows what’s going to wash up on our shores, no matter from how far away. They said if anybody on the beach sees something that they believe is a hazard and may have come from the Japanese Tsunami, or from any other event, call 9-1-1. If its just something with Japanese writing on it, is likely an heirloom from a victim Japanese family or just looks like it’s tsunami debris, you can email the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at TsunamiDebris@NOAA.gov at report it to them. Bits and specks of plastic, wood or cloth don’t count. They add, such small scale debris is likely to make up the majority of it.