Cantwell, Begich Statement on Sightings of Debris off Alaska Coast

Cantwell: “This is a wake-up call that the U.S. government needs an action plan now.” Begich: “The time for talk is over. We need action and funding now.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) issued the following statements following reports today from Alaska pilots that large amounts of debris are accumulating along the central Gulf of Alaska coast from Kayak Island to Montague Island. Items sighted include large floats, hard plastic and Styrofoam, as well as buoys and insulation. According to the pilots and Alaska fishermen, some of the items have Japanese writing on them.

“This discovery of large amounts of potential tsunami debris off Alaska’s coast is a wake-up call that the U.S. government needs an action plan now,” Cantwell said. “We know the tsunami debris is on its way to our coast. We cannot be caught by surprise – we need clear answers and the best science available to protect Washington state’s billion-dollar coastal economy. I will continue working to ensure we have an aggressive plan in place to protect Washington coastal communities and jobs.”

“The tsunami debris found on Middleton Island and recent sightings along the central Gulf coast confirm what we have expected over the past year,” Begich said. “The time for talk is over.  The prospect of debris coming to our shorelines is not just a theory, it is here. I urge the Obama Administration to respond to our request from several weeks ago to free up funding and resources so we can effectively deal with this debris and not be scrambling when it arrives. We need action and funding now.”

On March 30th in Seattle, Cantwell and Begich called on President Obama to allocate emergency resources to mobilize National Science Foundation (NSF) research to help track and respond to tsunami debris. Expediting NSF grants would help coastal communities get more specific estimates of what might hit shores – and when.

On March 7th, Cantwell urged the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to step up programs to analyze the potential danger of tsunami debris. During an Oceans, Fisheries, Coast Guard, and Atmosphere Subcommittee hearing, Cantwell questioned NOAA head Dr. Jane Lubchenco on the agency’s readiness to address the tsunami debris poses to Washington state’s coastal economy. President Obama’s FY13 budget proposed a 25 percent cut to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

Last November, Cantwell secured Senate Commerce Committee passage of an amendment to address the threat approaching tsunami debris poses to economies up and down Washington’s coastline. Cantwell’s amendment would identify the debris as a unique threat and require the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to develop an interagency action plan to help prepare our region for this potentially serious problem. Cantwell continues to fight to ensure a plan is in place to address the threat tsunami debris poses to Washington state’s coastal economy. The state’s coastal economy supports 165,000 jobs and produces $10.8 billion in economic activity each year.

After a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, an enormous amount of debris was washed out to sea. One year later, very little is known about the composition of the debris and there is currently no federal plan in place to address a large-scale marine debris event such as the approaching tsunami debris.