Skip to main content

Japan Tsunami Debris Turns Up in Hawaii

This plastic fish-holding bin measures four feet on each side. The growth of marine organisms at its bottom indicates it has been at sea for some time. (Image credit: Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory)

A barnacle-covered seafood storage bin has been identified as the first piece of debris to arrive in Hawaii from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

The blue cubed bin, about 4 feet (1.2 meters) on each side, was spotted floating off the coast of Waimanalo, Oahu, last week and was towed ashore by marine officials, according to a statement from Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

Officials said the plastic container belongs to Japanese seafood company Y.K. Suisan, Co., Ltd., based in the Miyagi prefecture, a region hit hard by the earthquake-triggered tsunami. As the disaster also set off a nuclear crisis with a partial meltdown at Japan's Fukushima power plant, health officials tested the bin for radiation but did not find any abnormal levels.

State aquatics worker scrapes off gooseneck barnacles from plastic bin. These grow in flotsam in the world's open oceans. (Image credit: DLNR, Division of Aquatic Resources)

The bin was housing gooseneck barnacles and crabs that typically live on floating debris in the open ocean. Officials said the organisms are not invasive to Hawaii. A few dead birds also were found inside the container.

The Japanese government has estimated that the tsunami swept about 5 million tons of wreckage out to sea. Seventy percent of this debris is believed to have sunk offshore, but no one knows how much of the remaining 1.5 million tons are still floating in the Pacific Ocean.

A handful of these lost parts have already turned up on or near the west coast of North America, from a small boat that washed up on a remote island in British Columbia to a large Japanese fishing ship that officials had to sink off the coast of Alaska.

Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.