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Murkowski calls for Japan tsunami debris roundtable

Posted: January 19, 2012 - 1:18am
A buoy from a Japanese oyster farm washes ashore in Yakutat on Sunday. This buoy and others like it found in Yakutat are debris carried to the shores of Southeast by the tsunami generated by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake which struck Japan on March 11, 2011.  Photo courtesy of R E Johnson
Photo courtesy of R E Johnson
A buoy from a Japanese oyster farm washes ashore in Yakutat on Sunday. This buoy and others like it found in Yakutat are debris carried to the shores of Southeast by the tsunami generated by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake which struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

Buoys that once held strings of farmed oysters in Japan are washing up on the shore in Yakutat. Visible specimen of debris float in the Pacific Ocean, carried there by the earthquake-induced tsunami that washed over coastal Japan in early 2011.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to hold a tsunami debris fact-finding roundtable to address this recent wave of debris and to prepare for the debris wave NOAA has predicted will arrive in Alaska in 2013. The event, “Our Coastlines are the Frontlines” will be webcast statewide from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Friday from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The task force will have the goal of assessing the impact to Alaska by Japan’s tsunami by “exploring what debris has been found and informing the public discussion on moving forward,” a release from Murkowski’s office states.

“It has been nearly a year since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused a tragic loss of life and property,” Murkowski said, “and Alaskans know that our coastlines are the frontlines in terms of dealing with some of the effects. Alaskans need to hear what is being seen and what is being done and that’s the reason I am bringing together state, federal and industry experts.”

Murkowski’s experts are Peter Murphy, Alaska coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program; Kristin Ryan, environmental health director for the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Dave Gaudet, Marine Debris Program coordinator for the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation

The Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation will present its new program to monitor Japan’s tsunami debris that end up on Alaska’s shores. The foundation plans to conduct weekly surveys in Craig, Sitka, Yakutat and Kodiak.

And it could turn out to be a long-term project. The Ocean Surface Current Simulator model of tsunami debris simulation predicts a second wave of debris arriving in Alaska in 2013.

The foundation’s results will be posted online.

“The monitoring program is designed to examine beaches in a systematic manner and tabulate the number of objects arriving on Alaska beaches,” Gaudet said.

Sen. Mark Begich is attempting to boost debris monitoring and cleanup through legislation.

“Residents of Alaska and other western coastal states are understandably concerned by the estimated 25 million tons of debris swept into the North Pacific during last year’s devastating tsunami which hit northern Japan,” Begich stated in a press release.

In a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Jane Lubchenco dated Tuesday, the senator asked about the Obama Administration’s plans to deal with tsunami debris. He asked for an outline of how $1 million in Marine Debris program funds would be spent. The Marine Debris program is reauthorized by Sen. Daniel Inouye’s Trash Free Seas Act, which Begich co-signed.

Begich also asked NOAA for an update on the status of the debris field and latest projections of transit times, response planning, dealing with potentially hazardous waste, public outreach and communications plan.

For more information about the debris fact-finding task force contact Sen. Murkowski’s press office at (202) 224-9301 or (202) 224-8069, or visit www.murkowski.senate.gov.

Watch the webcast at http://bit.ly/xqh5Qt.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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