Ocean Currents » japan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:30:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Will radiation from Fukushima harm distant seafood consumers? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/01/15/will-radiation-from-fukushima-harm-distant-seafood-consumers/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/01/15/will-radiation-from-fukushima-harm-distant-seafood-consumers/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 17:05:24 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7346

Pacific bluefin tuna. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries.

I’ve been receiving questions from concerned friends and family about how radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is affecting the marine environment and human seafood consumption. As ocean lovers, I’m sure you’re equally concerned. After reading different scientific articles and speaking with experts, I found that there are local impacts from radiation to humans and marine life around Fukushima – but impacts from radiation on the rest of the Pacific Ocean are not expected to be harmful to human consumers and marine animals.

Human tragedy and nuclear power plant meltdown

The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 was a human tragedy, killing at least 15,550 people and displacing more than 130,000 people. Economic losses caused by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Japan came to $210 billion, making it the costliest natural catastrophe of all time. This event also triggered the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown, creating a radiation scare around the world. The plant released radiation from:

  • atmospheric deposition due to the meltdown during mid-March 2011;
  • direct discharge from the plant;
  • river runoff; and
  • contaminated underground water flow.

The latter three sources are now small and continuous sources of input. These pathways introduced mostly iodine-131, cesium-137 and cesium-134 but also low levels of tellurium, uranium and strontium to the area surrounding the power plant.

Local radiation impacts: fishery closures, leaking storage tanks, elevated cancer rates

Radiation from the plant is impacting the area near the disaster. In local coastal waters and bottom sediments near Fukushima, cesium levels for certain marine life, such as bottom-dwelling fish, have been above the Japanese government’s limits for seafood and have prompted local fishery closures and nearby countries to ban importing fish caught near Fukushima. Direct exposure to leaking nuclear waste storage tanks is causing health problems among plant workers. The power plant meltdown also likely caused higher rates of certain cancers – which will unfold in the years to come – in local residents.

Distant radiation impacts: no harm likely to marine animals and human consumers of seafood

The implications for the larger Pacific Ocean, however, will be much less deleterious. In the Pacific Ocean, currents, eddies and other physical ocean dynamics dilute radiation from Fukushima, making these concentrations much lower in the ocean with distance and time. While the overall concentration of radionuclides will increase in the Pacific Ocean from pre-Fukushima levels, the increased levels will not likely be enough to be harmful to marine animals and human consumers outside the local area.

For example, migratory Pacific bluefin tuna, traveling from Japan to California, had elevated radiation levels of cesium-134 in 2012, a year after the Fukushima accident, but these levels were below safety guidelines for public health and less than half those from 2011.

To understand health risks, scientists also calculated that the additional dose from Fukushima radionuclides to humans consuming tainted Pacific bluefin tuna in the United States was 0.9 and 4.7 μSv for average consumers and subsistence fishermen, respectively. Such radiation doses are comparable to, or less than, the dose all humans routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments or air travel. (From a sustainable seafood perspective, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends avoiding bluefin tuna since they are being caught faster than they can reproduce.) With more scientific research, we can better understand how radioactivity from Fukushima will affect marine life and the food chain.

Dr. Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has been studying the spread and impacts of radiation from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean. He has an analogy to help understand the movement of Fukushima-derived radiation as it enters the ocean:

“The spread of cesium once it enters the ocean can be understood by the analogy of mixing cream into coffee. At first, they are separate and distinguishable, but just as we start to stir the cream forms long, narrow filaments or streaks in the water. The streaks became longer and narrower as they moved off shore, where diffusive processes began to homogenize and dilute the radionuclides. In the ocean, diffusion is helped along by ocean eddies, squirts, and jets that broaden, mix, and continue to dilute the cesium as it travels across the ocean. With distance and time, radionuclide concentrations become much lower in the ocean, something that our measurements confirm.”

For more information regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plant and radiation, check out Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s special series on Fukushima. For more information on sustainable seafood choices, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

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What To Do If You Find Tsunami Debris Washed Ashore http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/20/what-to-do-if-you-find-tsunami-debris-washed-ashore/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/20/what-to-do-if-you-find-tsunami-debris-washed-ashore/#comments Thu, 20 Sep 2012 15:01:38 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3013

Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common items of debris that have been washing onto West Coast beaches. Click the image to download the complete version.

Marine debris generated from the March 11th tsunami is drastically different from the ocean trash that was already plaguing our ocean. Over the coming months, there may be many difficult-to-collect debris items from the tsunami such as housing and construction materials, fishing gear and vessels. We could also find potentially dangerous items such as combustibles, as well as personal items related to the victims. Therefore, it is critical that volunteers and beachcombers document each item of debris they encounter on beaches with the highest level of scrutiny.

To assist with this effort, Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common debris items that are washing onto West Coast beaches in significantly higher numbers than in previous years. Content for the field guide was informed by our database of Cleanup data, NOAA, the California Coastal Commission and International Coastal Cleanup West Coast State Coordinators.

The field guide is NOT intended to forecast the arrival of tsunami debris and it’s imperative to remember that debris from foreign countries regularly washes onto U.S. West Coast beaches, so Asian characters on debris alone do not confirm it originated during the tsunami. The field guide provides Cleanup volunteers an educational tool so they can identify potential tsunami debris while sauntering West Coast beaches. International Coastal Cleanup participants have been using the field guide during the International Coastal Cleanup, noting any suspected tsunami debris items in the Items of Local Concern section on the Cleanup data card. These data will be analyzed in the months following the Cleanup and compared with tsunami debris model predictions. There are also protocols for handling and reporting suspected tsunami debris on the field guide.

The Tsunami Debris Field Guide can be found at Ocean Conservancy’s Tsunami Debris Action Center, along with other information about tsunami debris, what to do if you’ve found suspected tsunami debris, and how to differentiate tsunami debris from ocean trash. You can also enter your email address below to sign up to receive tsunami debris updates as new information becomes available:


Please leave this field empty

If you see a significant debris sighting, please send a photo and as much information as possible to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.

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Japan Shows Commitment to Tsunami Debris Response Efforts http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/11/japan-shows-commitment-to-tsunami-debris-response-efforts/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/11/japan-shows-commitment-to-tsunami-debris-response-efforts/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 21:18:47 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2909

Rain or shine, tsunami debris will need to be removed from our coasts. Credit: Ryan Ridge

Eighteen months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami washed away much of the Japan coastline and took the lives of thousands of Japanese citizens, the Japan Government announced it will contribute $6 million to the Canadian and United States Governments to support tsunami debris response efforts on the U.S. West Coast. Japan feels strongly about assisting the response effort, stating that the money is a way to show their appreciation and return the help they were given by Canada and the United States during the aftermath of the deadly 2011 tsunami. The tsunami debris anticipated along the U.S. West Coast underscores the fact that ocean trash is a global problem. Regardless of origin, trash travels. The ocean is the single most common connection between countries and continents, and therefore everyone has a role to play in tsunami debris response.

Ocean Conservancy welcomes Japan’s contribution of support and assistance to the tsunami debris response effort – and just as governments are working together on the issue, so have nonprofit organizations.  For more than 20 years, Ocean Conservancy has worked closely with our partners, the Japanese Environmental Action Network, tackling preventable ocean trash.  Now, they are on the forefront for response efforts following the tsunami.    The magnitude of debris that will wash onto U.S. West coast beaches remains uncertain; therefore, the best action we can take at the moment is ensuring we are adequately prepared to handle any and all predicted debris.

It’s important to remember that debris generated from the tsunami is drastically different from the ocean trash that has plagued our ocean long before the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It is likely that over the coming months, there will be many difficult-to-collect debris items from the tsunami including housing and construction materials, fishing materials and vessels, potentially dangerous items such as combustibles, and also personal items related to the victims.  That’s why Ocean Conservancy’s upcoming International Coastal Cleanup – coming up on September 15th – is more important than ever.

Ocean Conservancy has developed a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that serves as an educational tool for those volunteers along the West Coast. The field guide highlights the most common items of debris that have been washing onto beaches in unusually large numbers compared to historical Cleanup data. We’re asking Cleanup volunteers to note any suspected tsunami debris items in the Items of Local Concern section on the International Coastal Cleanup data card, so that we can analyze these data in the months following the Cleanup and compare them with current predictions from tsunami debris models.

The Cleanup represents an international network of engaged volunteers, working together toward one goal – to tackle marine debris – and their spirit and devotion to ridding our ocean of trash has not wavered in the aftermath of the tragic Japan earthquake and tsunami.


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Potential Tsunami Debris Found During Alaska Beach Cleanup http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/06/potential-tsunami-debris-found-during-alaska-beach-cleanup/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/06/potential-tsunami-debris-found-during-alaska-beach-cleanup/#comments Thu, 06 Sep 2012 15:47:14 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2850 Cleaning up on a beach outside Sitka, AlaskaThe coast of southeast Alaska is renowned for its stunning beauty, and the pocket beach outside the town of Sitka was no exception: dark sand piled with tangles of storm-tossed logs and fringed with emerald grass. From a distance, the beach looked pristine.

But as our boat pulled closer, we began to see what we had come for: trash. Chunks of polystyrene foam, plastic bottles, lengths of line, bits of faded blue tarp and pieces of netting were wedged in the piles of driftwood and strewn in the beach grass. It was time to get to work.

I was in Sitka to take part in a series of beach cleanups that brought together staff from Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and the Sitka Sound Science Center, along with volunteers from Allen Marine and Holland America Line. Together, we set out to find and remove marine debris that had washed up on the shores of nearby islands.

Ocean trash is a big problem, even in relatively remote places like the coast of Alaska. Marine debris can injure people, entangle marine mammals, enter the food web and threaten the overall ocean ecosystem—and it is a real eyesore. Removing trash from beaches reduces these threats and promotes ecosystem resilience.

Cleaning the beach also sets a baseline for future monitoring so that we have a better idea of how quickly debris is accumulating. That’s especially important this year, as debris from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami starts to wash ashore in Alaska and other West Coast states.

Cleanup volunteer holding polystyrene foam chunkIn our cleanups outside Sitka, chunks of polystyrene foam made up the bulk of the trash we found. The locals from southeast Alaska said that while they have always found foam on their beaches, they were finding more and bigger chunks of it this year. The increase may be a result of the Japanese tsunami, but at this point, it is impossible to say for sure.

Regardless of whether the foam we found on the beaches outside Sitka was from the tsunami or not, tsunami debris amounts to a tiny fraction of the trash that’s in our ocean. And for the most part, the problem of ocean trash is entirely preventable. Everyone has a role to play: we can all reduce our consumption of one-time use products, dispose of waste in a responsible way that keeps trash out of the ocean, tell our political leaders to provide the resources necessary to deal with the problem of ocean trash and take part in a cleanup close to home.

The beach cleanups in Sitka were a great success. We removed a lot of debris from a beautiful part of Alaska’s coast. And along the way, we saw humpback whales, sea otters, Steller seal lions, Sitka black-tailed deer—and brown bear tracks in the beach sand. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll be so lucky with your wildlife sightings, I can guarantee that participating in a local cleanup will help to create a safer, healthier, more resilient ocean that benefits marine wildlife and coastal communities.

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International Coastal Cleanup Coordinators Lead and Inspire Volunteers for Trash Free Seas http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/31/international-coastal-cleanup-coordinators-lead-and-inspire-volunteers-for-trash-free-seas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/31/international-coastal-cleanup-coordinators-lead-and-inspire-volunteers-for-trash-free-seas/#comments Fri, 31 Aug 2012 14:27:50 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=547

Yoshiko Ohkura (center) of JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network) cleans a beach at Gamo Tidal Flat. Credit: Nick Mallos.

How much are some people willing to give to solve the problem of ocean trash? In the case of the amazing partners who organize the International Coastal Cleanup across entire countries and U.S. states, the answer is: everything they have.

We call them the “sea stars of the Cleanup.” Meet just two, Azusa Kojima and Yoshiko Ohkura from JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network).

Like their fellow coordinators around the world, they manage a host of responsibilities, including:

  • identifying sites on the water to be cleaned and overseeing those sites;
  • educating the public and rallying a volunteer network;
  • engaging reporters from radio, television, newspapers and online news sources;
  • arranging cleanup day logistics; and
  • ensuring that data collected by volunteers reaches Ocean Conservancy for publication in the annual Ocean Trash Index.

JEAN’s efforts on behalf of the Cleanup for more than 20 years are legion. Now the recognized marine debris leader in Japan, JEAN unified existing cleanup efforts and inspired more participation by educating the public about the dangers of ocean trash. From 800 volunteers at 80 sites in 1990, JEAN has grown the Cleanup exponentially, with more than 22,000 volunteers at 234 sites in the peak year to date.

And now JEAN is on the frontline addressing debris from the 2011 tsunami. Representatives from JEAN including Azusa and Yoshiko traveled to Oregon in July; they came to participate in a workshop to plan for the arrival of tsumani debris on the West Coast.

Additional International Coastal Cleanup coordinators attending included Patrick Chandler of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies; Eben Schwartz of the California Coastal Commission; Chris Woolaway (who collaborates with Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful and Friends of Honolulu Parks and Recreation);  Briana Goodwin of Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (SOLVE); and Joan Hauser-Crowe of Oregon.

“We have engaged our network of Cleanup coordinators every year for the Cleanup, and once again, they are sharing their connections, research and ideas to help prepare for what may come,” says Dave Pittenger, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program.

It’s easy to see that the ripple effect carries the vision of trash free seas from coordinator to coordinator, and from lakes and rivers to the ocean’s shores. That’s why we salute each and every one of them.

International Coastal Cleanup Associate Director Sonya Besteiro (second from left) joined many Cleanup coordinators at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference including Kanyarat Kosavisutte, Thailand; Muntasir Mamun, Bangladesh; Katie Register, Virginia; and Liza Gonzalez, Nicaragua.

Sonya Besteiro, who works with coordinators year-round as associate director of the Cleanup, says, “The International Coastal Cleanup would never have grown into the world’s largest volunteer effort for ocean health without all the dedicated people who make it happen in their corner of the world.”

Learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at the Cleanup. And ask yourself, “How much am I willing to give?” Consider spending a few hours pitching in and picking up at an event near you!

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Tsunamis are unavoidable; trash choking our ocean is not http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/16/tsunamis-are-unavoidable-trash-choking-our-ocean-is-not/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/16/tsunamis-are-unavoidable-trash-choking-our-ocean-is-not/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:41:14 +0000 Janis Searles Jones http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1701

A 66-foot dock that washed up in Oregon was identified and confirmed as tsunami-related debris. Credit: NOAA

As Interim President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy and a resident of the Pacific Northwest, I watched with concern the news of a large Japanese dock landing in Oregon after being washed away by the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan. In the Tacoma News Tribune, I explain why we should be concerned about the tsunami debris heading our way and what we can do:

While it is still too soon to know exactly how big a problem this debris will be for U.S. shores, the International Pacific Research Center estimates that 5 percent or less of the approximately 1.5 million tons of debris in the Pacific Ocean could make landfall.

To prepare for what might come, we should prioritize baseline monitoring, modeling and outreach in communities. Ocean Conservancy has been working closely with the Obama administration, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as they ramp up response efforts.

In addition to monitoring and volunteer cleanups, we also should be advocating for the resources that may be needed to deal with the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude.

While natural disasters are inevitable, trash choking our ocean is not. Read the full story here.

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Even in the Ocean, Every Rose Has Its Thorn http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/08/even-in-the-ocean-every-rose-has-its-thorn/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/08/even-in-the-ocean-every-rose-has-its-thorn/#comments Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:09:33 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=961 Debris found during cleanup near Yokohama, Japan

Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos

Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.

This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.

So far, Mawar has delayed our departure on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japan Tsunami Debris Expedition by almost one week. To say anticipation and angst on board has been high would be an understatement. However, we have not allowed our time on land to be wasted.

Several of us traveled to a nearby beach that sits adjacent to the Sea Paradise Amusement Park. With roller coasters and a Ferris wheel as backdrop, we surveyed the crescent-shaped beach using NOAA’s Shoreline Monitoring Protocol, incorporating a microplastics sampling component recently designed by 5 Gyres Institute.

Plastic fragments dominated the rag line — the tide line on the beach where seaweed, shells and debris accumulate — and cigarette butts and food wrappers comprise the majority of items found toward the berm. None of the items we found indicated this debris was tsunami-generated.

Nick Mallos on the bow of the Sea Dragon ship

Nick Mallos awaiting Typhoon Mawar on the bow of Pangaea Exploration's Sea Dragon.

If our delayed departure has caused anyone to lose sight of the tsunami-related objectives of our expedition, there was a big reminder this morning via news of a 70-foot dock from Japan washing ashore on the Oregon coast.

As our departure nears, uncertainty still lingers regarding our debris encounters. We know we will find plastic and trash, but what type and how much, if any, tsunami debris we will encounter remains unknown.

No indecision exists among my crewmates though. The passion and determination for trash free seas exhibited by each crewmember is inspiring, and there’s no question that we are ready for whatever Poseidon has in store for us.

This evening, I opened a card with words inside that flawlessly capture the spirit and purpose embodied by each person aboard this expedition:

“This is your world. Shape it or somebody else will.” – Gary Lew

Fortunately, the weather is looking up and we plan to set sail at first light. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s Scientist at Sea Center to stay up-to-date with my progress.

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