Tsunami Debris Island Floating Toward US? Not Exactly

Reports about tsunami debris from Japan have been widely exaggerated. A recently released graphic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has led many news outlets to declare the existence of a “toxic monster” island of trash the size of Texas headed for the United States. Despite all the hype, it’s not true.

In response to fast-spreading rumors about a giant cluster of debris sent into the Pacific Ocean after Japan’s 2011 tsunami, NOAA says this is not correct, reports Huffington Post. While there was a great deal of matter pulled into the Pacific in 2011, it has not formed into a large Texas-sized island.

Instead, as NOAA explains, their recently released graphic is not of a large mass but of the area where tsunami debris has spread. NOAA admit that while it is difficult to know exactly how much debris is in the Pacific Ocean, they have a pretty good idea.

A great deal of it is believed to have simply sunk to the bottom of the ocean, too heavy to float. The remaining floating tsunami debris is greatly spread out but not clumped together. Officials at NOAA say that a great deal of floating tsunami debris has already hit US and Canadian shores. They expect scattered bits of matter from Japan to continue to land on North American coastlines for a few more years to come. The tsunami debris floating toward the US is so spread out that satellites can’t see it. Flying over in a plane, you wouldn’t be able to notice any debris, let alone a Texas-sized island, either.

Tsunami Debris NOAA Graphic

While the tsunami debris is not being seen as a serious concern, it could be what’s growing on the ocean junk that’s worth worrying about. Huffington Post reports that scientists have found over 165 non-native species collecting on the matter from Japan. Because many of these organisms are not part of the North American ecology, scientists worry this could be a microbial invasion in the works, thanks to the floating tsunami debris.

[Image via Wikimedia / US Navy]