Alaska Senior Senator and Democrats From the State House Reach out to Washington for Resources to Deal with Japanese Debris

As the 2012 summer fishing season approaches and fishermen prepare to once again to practice their trade netting salmon from Alaska's seas, Democrats from Alaska's House of Representatives and Alaska's senior Senator Lisa Murkowski reach out to the federal government to create an aggressive plan to protect Alaska's coastline from the threat posed by debris from last year's tsunami in Japan.

In response to hearing the concerns of the tsunami debris rising among Alaska’s fishermen, Sen. Lisa Murkowski reached out to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, asking her for information regarding the status of ongoing prevention and monitoring efforts.

Yesterday, Sen. Murkowski wrote a letter to Dr. Lubchenco, pointing out that already Alaska is experiencing much higher than typical levels of debris throughout the Prince William Sound area. Stating that commercial salmon fishing season opens in mid-May in Prince William sound, she requested that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began coodination with other federal agencies, the state of Alaska, local governments, and local industry to begin tracking debris that could possibly encroach on historical fishing grounds.

Meanwhile, yesterday, eight members of the Alaska House Democratic Caucus also called on the federal government to come up with an aggressive plan to deal with the debris problem from Japan. They stated in a letter that, “This debris could cause serious ecological, health and safety concerns for our coastal communities, not to mention significant economic impacts that could ripple throughout the state.” said House Democratic Leader Beth Kerttula of Juneau. “We know it’s coming—the first of it is already here. We need federal resources to get an idea of what we’re up against so we can develop the best way to deal with these waves of debris that could keep coming for months or more.”

in the letter addressed to Dr. Lubchenco, they requested “that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration make the necessary resources available to assess the potential magnitude of what could be a prolonged torrent of debris littering Alaska’s coastline.”

Already the forefront of the debris has reached Alaska shores. The lighter wind-driven debris such as Styrofoam, large, light containers, furniture, ships and buoys have already made it across the Pacific. Heavier objects, sitting lower in the water, are moving slower in the currents but will inevitably make landfall all along the Pacific coast of the United States including Alaska. it is unknown at this time what levels of toxicity this debris contains. This is one of the concerns that Alaskans have as the summer progresses and individuals come into increasing contact with it.

The Japanese government estimates that approximately 4.8 million tons of debris, including factory buildings, houses cars and trees were swept into the ocean after the March 2011 disaster. Of that total it is estimated that at least 1.5 million tons of debris, including ships, lumber, and other lighter items remained afloat to be swept off in the currents. They believe that the remaining portion sank to the seafloor close to Japan’s shores.

Previous projections estimated that the debris would not make landfall on the North American continent until between March of 2013 and March of 2014, but recent observations have shown that the debris is moving across the ocean at a much faster rate.

The House Democrat’s letter can be read here.

Senator Murkowski’s Letter to Dr Lubchenco can be read here.