Tsunami Marine Debris Cleanup Faces Financial Challenges

Most of the debris making landfall on the shores of North America
from the devastating March 2011 tsunami that hit northern Japan is expected to hit
the shores of Alaska, with heaviest concentrations from Yakutat to Fore point, in
the Gulf of Alaska. But Southeast and other areas will also see a considerable amount,
according to calculations of the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation in Juneau.
MCAF, which has been conducting marine debris cleanups in Alaska
since 2003, said its research shows that the majority of the debris is expected
to land within four years of the tsunami, but that Alaska may receive additional
debris as it is released from ocean gyres.
“based on our experience conducting cleanups around the state,
it will take a lot of people, equipment and money to remove the tsunami debris,”
says Dave Gaudet, MCAF’s marine debris program coordinator.
The missing component, says Gaudet, is money.
To date, Congress has granted $250,000 for this project, of which
$50,000 is allocated for Alaska. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation
has been seeking requests for proposals to use those funds for cleaning up Prince
William Sound. The Japanese government has also offered, subject to the Diet of
Japan, up to $6 million to help finance the cleanup.
In some other parts of the United States, marine debris cleanup
projects have enlisted a number of volunteers, but in Alaska, that’s not a practical
idea, Gaudet said, because just transporting people out to these areas and providing
living accommodations will be very expensive.
MCAF is looking into the use of Styrofoam compactors to deal
with massive amounts of Styrofoam, from Styrofoam floats coming up and breaking
apart on Alaska’s shores. That Styrofoam is a really big concern, he said.
A lot of the debris, once collected will go out of state, to
big commercial landfills, maybe in eastern Washington, he said.
Meanwhile, efforts to get funding for the cleanup continue.