Five federal scientists have begun the first survey of Southeast Alaska beaches for debris from the Japanese tsunami. The crew from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration left Ketchikan late last week aboard the charter vessel Sumdum for a 10-day cruise to survey specific beaches of Southeast Alaska from Dixon Entrance to Cape Spencer. They plan to cover 78 kilometers of shoreline across 889 kilometers of outside coast.
Jeep Rice of NOAA’s Auke Bay Laboratory in Juneau said the team doubts that the peak of tsunami debris has arrived yet, so this is a preliminary assessment to get an idea of the scope of what is arriving right now. Rice said they are keeping a sharp eye out to see if there is anything chemically or physically dangerous in the debris that needs immediate attention, and that the scouting trip will help in planning future cleanup efforts.
Later this summer other locations further north and west in Alaska will be surveyed, including a wide area of coastline all the way out to Adak. Human related marine debris will be enumerated and cataloged so scientists can assess their spatial and temporal distribution. NOAA plans to continue tsunami debris surveys periodically throughout the next two years.
While this is the first NOAA survey in Alaska specifically for tsunami debris, NOAA has been conducting marine debris surveys along the Alaska coast every 5-10 years since standard survey protocols were developed in the 1970s, giving the agency nearly 40 years of data on marine debris in Southeast Alaska.