10X More Marine Debris On North American Shores After 2011 Tsunami

Marine debris is such a complex problem because what goes into the ocean rarely stays in one place.

An estimated five million tonnes of debris was swept out to sea during Japan’s 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami—five million tonnes of houses, cars, boats, fishing gear, shipping containers, and other materials. It was a catastrophic loss of property to add to the 18,500 dead. But where did all of this debris go? Beachcombers along the west coast of Canada and the United States reported finding fishing equipment, crates, and even whole boats in the years after the tragedy, but no one knew exactly how much had washed ashore. Now, a new study has found that the tsunami increased marine debris along North American coastlines by ten times.

“We’d had anecdotal reports from people living along shorelines saying, ‘This is outside what we’ve ever experienced.’ Just huge amounts [of debris] that have not been seen before,” says Cathryn Murray, a marine ecologist and lead author of the study. “It was good to put a number to that.”

Photo: Brian Yurasits/The TerraMar Project

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