Japan Tsunami Marine Debris

On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The disaster claimed nearly 16,000 lives, injured 6,000, and destroyed or damaged countless buildings. Unfortunately, the effects of these natural events did not stop there. The Government of Japan estimated that 5 million tons of debris was carried into the ocean by the massive tsunami, of which 70% sank nearshore, leaving 1.5 million tons of floating debris to drift in the Pacific Ocean. Following the disaster, debris that the tsunami washed into the ocean reached U.S. and Canadian shores. 

Following the tsunami, NOAA worked closely with the impacted states and local partners to monitor and respond to tsunami debris found on U.S. shorelines. NOAA led efforts with federal, state, and local partners to collect data, assess the debris, and reduce possible impacts to our natural resources and coastal communities. Using a generous goodwill gift of $5 million from Japan, NOAA supported tsunami marine debris removal in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California. An estimated total of 635 metric tons of debris was removed.

In the months and years following the tsunami in Japan, NOAA led efforts to model, monitor, and document the sightings of debris.

A NOAA-led modeling effort helped provide an understanding of the pathways and speed of debris, indicating where and when tsunami debris may have washed up.

Following the tsunami, NOAA partners and volunteers throughout Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, and British Columbia conducted monthly shoreline surveys to observe and understand the types and amount of tsunami debris reaching U.S. shorelines.

NOAA mapped all reported sightings of possible tsunami debris, using NOAA's Environmental Response Management Application® (ERMA) tool, an online mapping tool that integrates data in a centralized, easy-to-use format for environmental responders and decision makers.