By Naomi Klouda
A few beachcombers are reporting they believe they are finding objects along southern Kenai Peninsula beaches that came from a Japanese debris field afloat in the Pacific Ocean.
So far, the reports are unconfirmed in Kachemak Bay.
Mundane bottles, construction supplies and a lonely shoe have been among the items found along the West Coast, from Oregon beaches to British Columbia and Alaska. In Kodiak, a beachcomber found buoys that were confirmed as wreckage from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that wracked the Japanese coast on March 11.
But if intriguing items are found, people are urged to not pick any of it up. Make a record and contact either Cook Inletkeeper or the Homer Fire Department.
Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson was at work Monday locating a Geiger counter online to purchase for measuring any radioactive presence on debris that floats ashore on Kachemak Bay beaches. The thought is that any materials from the meltdown of Japanese nuclear reactors that also occurred as the March tragedy unfolded could make some materials hazardous.
“What we need is a contingency plan, in case any potential hazardous debris gets here,” Shavelson said. A local plan isn’t in place yet, but NOAA has issued extensive guidelines.
Beachcombers should handle any suspected items with care, advises the NOAA National Ocean Service through its Marine Debris Program. A website is devoted to a full range of frequently asked questions to guide coastal residents who like to walk the beach and notice what comes ashore. One big question is whether the debris is radioactive.
“There is consensus among scientists that this is highly unlikely,” the information reads. “This is not to say that cleaning up the shoreline and handling marine debris is risk free. For example, be careful of sharp objects that could cut your hands; avoid picking up sealed containers of chemicals – they may crack or break and spill the content on you; likewise, report any full drum on the beach, and avoid handling it yourself. If you are uncomfortable handling any debris item, leave it where it is.”
So far, a specific local program isn’t in place to deal with the issue, but is under discussion now among emergency managers, said Eric Mohrmann, director of the Kenai Peninsula Office of Emergency Management.
News came prior to Christmas that Alaska coastal communities likely will find Japanese items washing ashore. Boards, boats, roofs, furniture and even suspected human bodies are part of a massive 5-20 million-ton field floating in the Pacific Ocean these past 10 months. Experts calculated currents would disperse it along the West Coast then push north with the Japanese Current.
But that’s just the beginning, experts say. Physicist Michio Kaku told CNN Thursday that it is vital to understand the sheer size of the Japanese debris field in the Pacific Ocean. The floating mass is described as the size of California.
Shavelson wanted to purchase the Geiger counter to make monitoring beach debris available through Cook Inletkeeper. Carrying items and putting them in a vehicle to be measured at an agency, however, wasn’t a good idea. So local officials were brainstorming what the tactic should be.
On Vancouver Island, B.C., The Sun newspaper reported that wreckage from Japan began appearing this month. “In or around Dec. 5th the first item or two of some consequence was found,” Tofino Mayor Perry Schmunk told the newspaper. “Some lumber came ashore that had Japanese export stamps on it.”
Two weeks ago, CNN affiliate KIRO in Seattle showed video footage of what it said was debris from the March 11 tsunami — at least 10 Japanese buoys — on the Washington coast. “That’s about as good as the evidence gets for first arrivals,” retired oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer told KIRO.
To read more information on how to react if marine debris is found, go to :