Research crew searching for Japan debris

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Jul 10 2012 12:10:21 AM HST
Updated On: Jul 10 2012 12:21:12 AM HST

A 12-person team returned from a 28-day exploration from Japan to Hawaii searching for proof of tsunami debris.

HONOLULU -

Fishing boats, nets, tires and more getting packed up and sent to a lab.

"We found this tire floating in the sea. It's all moving with the current and there's plastic spread around," said Sea Dragon Captain Roberto Olson.

The 12-member research crew just finished the last leg of their expedition to track plastic pollution in the ocean. And they found plenty.

Scientist Marcus Eriksen said a toothbrush is the perfect piece of plastic to last in the ocean. It's light and it's thick so UV rays can't get to the middle of it and break it down.

But Eriksen says the past 28 days was dedicated to finding the trail of tsunami debris from Japan's disaster.

About halfway from Japan to Hawaii, they found a Japanese boat with the registration numbers intact.

They also found car tires from Japan, insulated tatami mats from a house, nets, buoys and much more.

Eriksen said winds are carrying the lighter, buoyant stuff to Alaska and the West coast, but the slower moving debris is headed to Hawaii.

"Little by little you're going to see it. You're going to hear about a boat on Midway Atoll. You're going to year about a basketball on Kure Atoll. You're going to hear about debris hitting Kahuku Beach," Eriksen said.

But he also said much of it is spreading out too, combining with what's already been building for decades.

"What we have found is that the Eastern Garage Patch you hear about between California and Hawaii, well, it actually extends all the way across to Tokyo to the Western Garbage Patch making one big garbage patch," Eriksen said.

What the team found the most off was what's called micro plastic -- the kind that makes the perfect fish food.

"The fish look at this and it says 'this is food' so it might get food, but also gets a bit of plastic and that can have all kinds of toxins attached to it," said Eriksen.

His team believes it's all evidence tsunami debris is on the way and it's a reminder of the damage already done.

"I think once we realize there is an impact on ocean on marine life that we use to feed the world that will spark some change," Eriksen said.

"You know I've spent a lifetime at sea so it's heartbreaking to see what we are doing with the ocean," said Capt. Olson.

Monday night, a crew picked up the Sea Dragon's findings to bring it back to a California lab.

Researchers will do a battery of tests, for one, to see what kinds of chemicals or radiation might be in the plastic.

They also hope to find out soon who owns that registered Japanese boat.

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