Hawaii Works with Federal Partners to Monitor and Respond to Reports of Possible Tsunami Debris

State of Hawaii
Department of Land and Natural Resources

NEWS RELEASE

Hawaii Works with Federal Partners to Monitor and Respond to Reports of Possible Tsunami Debris
Contingency plans being prepared to intercept floating dock and handle before it reaches land

HONOLULU, HI (Sept. 27, 2012 | Dept. of Land & Natural Resources) — The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the state’s lead agency for responding to reported possible Japan tsunami marine debris in Hawaii, is coordinating with NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard to identify the current location of a 30 by 50-foot floating dock that was last seen on Wednesday, Sept. 19, by fishermen off the north coast of Molokai.

The dock is believed to be identical to three others reported missing from Japan after the March 2011 tsunami.  Another one recently came ashore on an Oregon beach earlier this year.

”DLNR’s priority, with the critical help of the public and federal partners, is to re-find this large floating object, which is a hazard to vessels at sea and the wellbeing of our coastal resources. We need to be able to track its movement to try to intercept and handle the dock at sea, and to prevent serious environmental damage if it should reach shore,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR chairperson.

DLNR has requested that boaters, fishers and pilots be alert to the possible presence of the dock and to immediately report any sightings of the dock to (808) 587-0400.  NOAA is also requesting that sightings of marine debris be reported to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.

The Japan Consulate in Honolulu has been notified and, if the dock is relocated, will work with DLNR and NOAA to confirm the dock’s origin.

DLNR and the Department of Health (with assistance as needed from other state agencies) along with NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S .Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working together on the Hawaii response to marine debris from the 2011 Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami.  The inter-agency working group is coordinating with various federal, state and county partners, as appropriate, to facilitate response and regularly communicate to the public. NOAA continues to assist with model trajectories for possible movement of the dock by currents and winds, and has readied two satellite tracking buoys for state use should the dock be located.

On Tuesday, DLNR received a call from a Molokai resident who reported seeing styrofoam on a rocky cliff shoreline on the Molokai north coast. DLNR arranged for its Maui helicopter contractor to survey the north shores of Molokai and Lanai yesterday afternoon. Two staff members from the Division of Aquatic Resources Maui office participated as observers. A large quantity of foam pieces were noticed west of Moomomi and a ball of fishing debris. However there was no sighting of the dock in either location.

DLNR also received a report yesterday from a Laie resident who had found two large and one smaller black buoy on a local beach.  There was no marine growth on them. The buoys were tested by the Department of Health and normal background levels of radiation were found.

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HOW TO REPORT FINDINGS OF POSSIBLE TSUNAMI MARINE DEBRIS:

The public is invited to contact DLNR at (808) 587-0400 to report findings of possible tsunami marine debris. If possible, we request that a picture of the debris with a detailed description of the object, date found, location and finder’s contact information, be sent to dlnr@hawaii.gov  This information will help DLNR staff to determine if a more thorough investigation is necessary.  Reports may also made to NOAA at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov

DLNR staff also checked out a large piece of yellow foam that was reported in Kahaluu earlier this week.  It measured 4 inches wide by 4 feet long, with chicken wire molded between.  It had a small amount of gooseneck barnacles (not of concern) on one side, but no other growth.  There were no identifying marks and it did not look to be tsunami generated.
Other actions to locate the floating dock

Between September 21 and 22, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted three flights where Coast Guard aircrews were able to observe the area between Molokai and Oahu for any sign of marine debris. No sightings were reported, and the dock has not yet been relocated.  The Coast Guard also used a search and rescue computer program to plot the potential drift of the object using the last reported sighting of the dock from local fishermen on September 19.

The Coast Guard has systems in place to report significant objects and other hazards in the water through the issuance of notice to mariners. A broadcast notice to mariners has been issued that contains a description of the floating dock, the time and date it was sighted and the last known location. Cmdr. Martin Smith, chief of marine environmental response for the 14th Coast Guard District said, “The Coast Guard would like to remind mariners, as always, to remain on the lookout for debris or any other dangers while at sea.”

In conjunction with routine Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane law enforcement deployments and surveillance patrols of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine Monument, the Coast Guard has been on the lookout for marine debris in an attempt to help NOAA identify and track it.  On December 6, 2011, one such flight provided surveillance of a 58,000 square mile area off Midway; an area approximately the size of the state of Alabama. A small refrigerator was sighted, but nothing else.

On January 17, 2012, a second Hercules, with observers from NOAA and EPA aboard, provided surveillance covering 78,700 square miles; an area approximating the size of the state of North Dakota.  No debris whatsoever was sighted. Both of these flights were conducted in an area of the highest risk/probability of forecast debris approaching the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, using University of Hawaii and NOAA drift modeling data. Routine law enforcement patrols continue to provide opportunities to search for marine debris.

The state is also collaborating with the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument as well as external stakeholders to assess and monitor the movement of other Japan tsunami marine debris.  The Japan Ministry of the Environment estimates that 5 million tons of debris washed into the ocean (not the 25 million tons according to initial estimates).  They further estimated that 70 percent of debris sank near the coast of Japan soon after the tsunami.   Models and estimates completed by NOAA and the University of Hawai‘i reveal that  some high-floating debris may have passed near or washed ashore on the Main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as early as this summer.  During the summer, debris was found along the Pacific Coast of North America from Alaska southward to California.

Because most tsunami debris was washed out to sea before the release of radioactive materials from the power plant and because of its extended exposure to the elements, it is highly unlikely that the debris would be contaminated.

Even though the likelihood of discovering radioactive contamination on marine debris is low, the state Department of Health has been conducting shoreline surveillance since April 2011, in order to establish normal background radiation levels around the islands.  The state Department of Health continues to conduct quarterly shoreline environmental surveys on O‘ahu, Maui. Kaua‘i, and the Hawai‘i Island.  Results of the surveys performed displays consistency with normal background radiation levels.  Additionally, the state Department of Health has partnered with NOAA to perform shoreline and debris monitoring on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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For more information news media may contact:

Deborah Ward
DLNR Public Information Specialist
Phone: (808) 587-0320

Ben Sherman
Director of NOAA Communications & External Affairs @ The National Ocean Service
SSMC#4, Room #13227
1305 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: 301-713-3066 Cell: 202-253-5256

(Source: Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands regional coordinator, NOAA Marine Debris Program / IMSG, email 9/28/2012)
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