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Marine Debris, Five Years After the Japan Tsunami

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The tsunami that struck Japan five years ago today was one of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history. Many lives and property were lost and after all that destruction, there was another impact to address: marine debris. The tsunami swept countless debris items into the Pacific Ocean, many of which eventually made their way across to North American shores. The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) was very involved in addressing this debris. Learn more on our website and check out this blog by MDP Director Nancy Wallace that was posted by NOAA earlier today.

Despite the enormous devastation that resulted from this natural event, the stories of kindness, connection, and resilience remind us of the strength of those that were affected and that goodness can still be present in the wake of terrible circumstances.

One such story is the connection made between Del Norte and Takata High School students—teenagers from across the Pacific that were connected by a piece of marine debris. A small boat, used in Japan by Takata High School for marine science lessons, found its way to California after the tsunami struck. Del Norte High School students and their teachers restored the boat and worked with various partners to return it to Japan. In the years since, the schools have nurtured this connection with exchange trips between them (learn more about this story from this article or this blog post). This is a reminder of the partnerships that were forged out of this horrible event and the way the ocean connects us all.

The vessel lost by Takata High School, covered in algae and mussels.

The vessel lost by Takata High School arrived on California shores, where it was restored and then returned to its owners in Japan. (Photo Credit: Lori Dengler, Humboldt State University)

Similarly, many small vessels have washed ashore on Hawaii following the 2011 tsunami. One in particular, the 20-foot fishing boat Daini Katsu Maru, is being returned to Japan to be incorporated into a memorial display. It is due to arrive home today. Learn more about this story here.

Another story of connection includes a soccer ball that was found on a remote Alaskan island. Covered in Japanese writing, the ball was traced back to 16 year-old Misaki Murakami, who had lost it along with the rest of his possessions during the tsunami. He had received the ball as a gift from classmates, whom had written words of encouragement and friendship on the ball. After a trip across the Pacific Ocean, the soccer ball was returned to its rightful owner. For more on this story, check out this blog post.

The soccer ball with Japanese writing on it that was returned to 16 year-old Misaki Murakami after being found in Alaska in 2012.

The soccer ball that was returned to 16 year-old Misaki Murakami after being found in Alaska in 2012. (Photo Credit: David Baxter)

Five years later, the effects of the 2011 tsunami in Japan are still felt and debris continues to wash upon our shores. However, the strength and resilience of the people most affected by this event, the connections and partnerships that were formed, and the lessons that were learned to help us in the future all begin to bring a little light to a dark day.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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