Navy Finds Boat Grounded in Reef at Pearl Harbor – May Be Japan Tsunami Debris

Chief Warrant Officer Three (CWO3) Timothy Greene, Port Operations, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and Paul Sensano, Deptartment of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) paddle a 12-foot long skiff which was grounded on a reef near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on March 8.

 U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Nardel Gervacio

U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Nardel Gervacio

The skiff, possible marine debris from the Japan Tsunami of March 11, 2011, appeared in waters near Pearl Harbor, and posed both a navigational hazard as well as potentially damaging the shallow reef. Greene and Sensano righted the skiff and secured it before moving it to the Hickam boat ramp for removal.

To date, 17 large items including boats or skiffs have been identified in Hawaii as being associated with the tsunami.

Japan Tsunami – “Debris Fields are No Longer Visible”

Tracking marine debris from the Japanese tsunami

Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March could reach the United States as early as this winter, according to predictions by NOAA scientists. However, they warn there is still a large amount of uncertainty over exactly what is still floating, where it’s located, where it will go, and when it will arrive. Responders now have a challenging, if not impossible situation on their hands: How do you deal with debris that could now impact U.S. shores, but is difficult to find?

Federal agencies join forces

To learn more about the tsunami debris, NOAA researchers have been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to coordinate data collection activities.

NOAA and its partners are also coordinating an interagency assessment and response plan to address the wide-range of potential scenarios and threats posed by the debris.

“We’re preparing for the best and worst case scenarios — and everything in between,” says Nancy Wallace, director for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

As the tsunami surge receded, it washed much of what was in the coastal inundation zone into the ocean. Boats, pieces of smashed buildings, appliances, and plastic, metal, and rubber objects of all shapes and sizes washed into the water — either sinking near the shore or floating out to sea. The refuse formed large debris fields captured by satellite imagery and aerial photos of the coastal waters.

The Japanese government estimated that the tsunami generated 25 million tons of rubble, but there is no clear understanding of exactly how much debris was swept into the water nor what remained afloat.

What remains of the debris?

Nine months later, debris fields are no longer visible. Winds and ocean currents scattered items in the massive North Pacific Ocean to the point where debris is no longer visible from satellite. Vessels regularly traveling the North Pacific have reported very few sightings. Only two pieces have been clearly linked to the tsunami.

NOAA is coordinating new interagency reporting and monitoring efforts that will provide critical information on the location of the marine debris generated by the tsunami. Ships can now report significant at-sea debris sightings and individuals or groups can request shoreline monitoring guides at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.

Where is it?

Computer models run by NOAA and University of Hawaii researchers show some debris could pass near or wash ashore in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument) as early as this winter, approach the West Coast of the United States and Canada in 2013, and circle back to the main Hawaiian Islands in 2014 through 2016.

Researchers caution that models are only predictions based on location of debris when it went into the water, combined with historical ocean currents and wind speeds.

Conditions in the ocean constantly change, and items can sink, break down, and disperse across a huge area. Because it is not known what remains in the water column nor where, scientists can’t determine with certainty if any debris will wash ashore.

Worst- and Best-case Scenarios

The worst-case scenario is boats and unmanageable concentrations of other heavy objects could wash ashore in sensitive areas, damage coral reefs, or interfere with navigation in Hawaii and along the U.S. West Coast. Best case? The debris will break up, disperse and eventually degrade, sparing coastal areas.

Debris will not go away completely, even in a best-case scenario. Marine debris is an ongoing problem for Hawaii and West Coast states, where garbage and other harmful items regularly wash up on beaches, reefs and other coastal areas.

What else is NOAA doing?

NOAA has convened experts to review available data and information from models and provide their perspectives on debris fate and transport. They are gathering information on significant sighting of marine debris in the North Pacific through NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operation’s Pacific fleet, the NOAA Voluntary Observing Ship Program, which includes industry long-haul transport vessels, as well as the NOAA Pacific Island Regional Observer Program and their work with the Hawaii longline fishing industry. NOAA is also working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii on shoreline debris monitoring in the Papahānaumokuākea Monument.

Lt. Governor Brian Schatz – Are You Ready

Aloha,

June 1 marks the start of hurricane season for Hawaii, and it’s a good time to get ready.
The March 11 earthquake in Japan was devastating, and it reminds us that it’s not a question of “if” a major natural disaster will hit Hawaii, but “when.”
As bad as it was in Japan, many lives were saved because the Japanese government and community made efforts to be ready.
We need to do the same in Hawaii.
The Hawaii chapter of the American Red Cross has launched a great to new program called “Ready when the Time Comes.”
To be ready when the time comes, first, “Make a Plan,” which includes both an evacuation and communications plan in the event you become separated.
Second, “Get a Disaster Supplies Kit.”  Store enough supplies for least 5 to 7 days.
Also, “Be Informed and Get Trained.”  For example, learn First Aid and CPR.
The Red Cross is launching a Ready Rating website that allows businesses and schools to self-test their disaster readiness and gives them tools to improve their score.
For more information on how to prepare your business, your school, your home, and your family for a natural disaster, please visit HawaiiRedCross.org.  Or visit our website at hawaii.gov/ltgov.

Mahalo,

Brian Schatz
hawaii.gov/ltgov

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie on Nuclear Risk

Governor Neil Abercrombie echoed comments made by President Barack Obama that no harmful levels of radiation are expected to reach Hawai’i. Governor Abercrombie stated:

“I want to reassure residents and visitors that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the highest authority on radiation in the nation, has indicated Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to Hawai’i. Our state and county monitoring systems have not detected any increase in radiation levels, and based on all available information, state and federal experts do not anticipate any risk of harmful radiation exposure to our islands. We are open for business. Hawai’i continues to be the world’s paradise.

“Residents do not need to take protective measures at this time. Our state Department of Health is working closely with state, county and federal agencies to monitor the situation on a minute-to-minute basis. Ongoing updates and informational sessions are taking place with federal authorities.

“In the meantime, we continue to send our aloha to the people of Japan. As one island people to another, we stand with them in solidarity and in sympathy for the challenges they are facing.”