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Seaside Saturdays: A Tsunami of Questions

DC EcoWomen is going blue once a week to bring you the all-new Seaside Saturday blog series, where you can tune in to read about issues in marine science ranging from algae, corals, and fish to public health concerns and conservation challenges.  This week, our first post will focus on one of the ocean’s trickiest and hidden problems: marine debris.

Nine months ago, the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan raised countless immediate concerns about radiation, seafood, and human loss, but in case the tragedy had drifted to the back of your mind, the media has stirred up controversy and brought it back to the forefront of public concern.  This time, many worry that we will be reminded of the tragedy through the physical debris caused by the natural disaster.  NOAA’s

Marine Debris Programis working hard to collaborate with ocean modelers to determine the facts of the situation and to appease public concerns.  This situation highlights the challenges of making high-profile predictions when so much remains unknown.

Shortly after the

tsunami struck the coast, the wave of physical debris was visible from outer space.  Now, months later, the evidence of destroyed buildings, cars, schools, and farms has been dispersed by ocean currents or has sunk to the sea floor.  Current models predict that debris might begin washing ashore in Hawaii this winter and then hit the west coast of the U.S. in 2013.  Because the Pacific Ocean is a gyre (made famous by the ocean garbage patch), the debris would circle back to the Hawaiian Islands by 2015.  One of the biggest concerns is that larger items might cause damage to sensitive coral atolls or disrupt regional fishing activities.  Less known impacts include concerns over toxic chemicals accumulating in the food web, navigation hazards, or interference with coastal recreation.

NOAA is collaborating with international partners, industry and research institutions to ensure that misconceptions are kept to a minimum.  With concerns over radioactivity and questions of how many tons of debris were actually swept to sea, the communications team has their hands full.  As with most public health concerns, the media can often blow an issue out of proportion.  Head on over the the

Marine Debris Program’s website to track the tsunami debris and for more information, podcasts, videos, and FAQs.  Make sure you’re a source of truthful facts when these issues come up at happy hour, or among friends, family, and colleagues!

Check back next Saturday for information about oceans and public health…



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