WASHINGTON — Efforts to track and clean up marine debris created by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan could receive up to $1 million in fiscal year 2012 after Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) inserted language that allows the funding through the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill approved by the Senate on Nov. 1.
The bill includes at least $5 million for marine debris activities, an increase of $1 million.
According to the bill language, “Extra funding is provided above the request to track and mitigate the immense debris field generated by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that struck in March 2011. Based on ocean current data, the debris field is anticipated to impact the American Pacific islands as early as the end of fiscal year 2011, and the continental United States during fiscal year 2012.”
In recent months, federal agencies and scientists in Hawaii working to track the flow of tsunami debris have fretted openly about the potential for major marine ecosystem damage and the lack of a plan or money to deal with the debris.
The funding was included in H.R. 2112, the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The bill, as amended, includes the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bills.
The Senate approved H.R. 2112 by a vote of 69 to 30, and will now go to conference with the House of Representatives.
“As an island state, Hawaii is particularly susceptible to the impacts of marine debris and, all the more so, because we are located near the center of a great network of ocean currents in the Pacific that tend to concentrate debris into a wide region known as the Garbage Patch,” said Inouye.
“Our state has long been at the forefront of efforts dealing with this issue and in fact we have recently become the first state to develop and implement a comprehensive marine debris action plan. This plan and other marine debris programs are likely to be even more valuable to us as recent research suggests that the tragic Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that struck in March resulted in a tremendous amount of lost infrastructure that may begin to reach our shores as soon as next year.”
According to computer models generated by researchers at the University of Hawaii, there is anywhere between 5 and 25 million tons of marine debris floating toward Hawaii and the West Coast.
The expanse of floating trash is estimated to be 2,000 miles long and 1,000 miles wide, although no one can yet predict how much of that debris will sink or decompose before hitting land.