JUNEAU, Alaska – The five West Coast states affected by debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan are about to receive an initial $250,000 each from a $5 million gift from Japan for cleanup.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is distributing the money to Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington and will allocate the remainder as additional needs arise. It’s unclear how far the money will stretch for what some state officials and beach-cleaning groups expect to be a yearslong problem.
Alaska is preparing to ask NOAA for up to $750,000 in additional funds to help with cleanup this year.
Unlike other states where beaches are accessible year-round, many Alaskan beaches targeted for cleanup are remote or hard to reach, sometimes requiring that debris be hauled out by boat or even helicopter. There also is a narrow window for conducting the work, generally running into September. While some crews already have been out this year, poor weather has delayed the start of cleanup or surveillance in other parts of the state.
The Japanese gift announced last fall was greater than NOAA’s overall marine debris budget in fiscal year 2012, though $6 million has been requested as part of the president’s 2014 budget proposal. And the pool of gift funds took a hit when NOAA put $478,000 toward removing a dock that washed ashore on a remote beach on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
It’s unclear how much debris is still floating and what might arrive on U.S. shores. Chris Pallister, president of beach-cleaning group Gulf of Alaska Keeper, said there are indications the worst of the Styrofoam that washed up on parts of Alaska’s shores is over. He and others have raised concerns about the material’s effect on fish, birds and other wildlife.
Of the more than 1,700 reports of possible tsunami debris along the western coast of North America and the open Pacific, just 29 have been definitively linked to the disaster, NOAA spokeswoman Keeley Belva said.
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