Debris From Japanese Tsunami Headed For Pacific ‘Garbage Patch’

Debris from Japanese tsunami headed for Pacific ‘garbage patch’ (Telegraph, June 23, 2011):

Millions of tons of debris washed out to sea from north-east Japan by the March 11 tsunami has embarked on a 10-year circuit of the Pacific, endangering shipping and wildlife.

The French environmental group Robin des Bois estimates that a large percentage of the 25 million tons of debris created by the magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami that it triggered has been sucked out to sea.

After being caught in the swirling currents for a number of years, it will congregate into two floating “garbage patches,” one in the east and the other in the west of the Pacific.

The debris includes damaged fishing boats, cars, shipping containers and the contents of thousands of houses, including refrigerators, along with plastics, wood, rubber and items made of PVC.

Many of the vehicles will discharge their oil and fuel, creating numerous spills, while containers from industrial facilities will leak pesticides, chemicals and a wide range of other pollutants, the organisation said.

The waste will move at a speed of between 5 and 10 miles a day, catching the North Pacific Current and crossing the ocean in as little as 12 months.

Off the coast of California, debris is expected to circulate either north or south, taking either the Alaskan or North Equatorial currents back to the western reaches of the ocean.

Much is predicted to end up caught in the vortex of the Eastern Garbage Patch, which is estimated to measure between 270,000 square miles and 5.8 million square miles.

“Over time plastic debris eventually fragments into tiny particles creating ‘plastic plankton’ or ‘microplastic,’ which is a serious long-term concern, particularly for marine food webs.” the organisation said.

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