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Updated: 11/18/2013 01:19:01AM

Conference on tsunami debris to be held

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TOKYO (The Yomiuri Shimbun.) — A conference will be held in Tokyo on Wednesday and Thursday to examine the problem of debris swept into the ocean by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The Tokyo conference of the Marine Litter Summit will feature a report on the large quantity of plastic fragments drifting amid other debris like wood and fishing equipment by Azusa Kojima, secretary and director of the Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN), a general incorporated association.

Kojima, 56, traveled in late June to Montague Island, an uninhabited island in the Bay of Alaska, under the guidance of a local environmental protection organization. Debris apparently from Japan, including pipes for oyster cultivation and plastic containers for kerosene, was scattered about. There was also a great deal of plastic that had broken into pieces only a few centimeters across.

More than 25,000 cubic meters of debris is estimated to have reached the island. U.S. authorities have said it will all be removed manually and disposed of off the island.

According to the Environment Ministry, approximately 5 million tons of debris was swept into the ocean by the March 2011 tsunami, including roofs and cars. Of the amount, about 1.5 million tons of wooden debris and other items did not sink to the sea floor, but drifted instead. About 220,000 tons of debris was believed to have reached various parts of North America by October this year.

Prof. Shigeru Fujieda of Kagoshima University, an expert in marine debris, accompanied Kojima on her survey. “Debris that drifted from Japan has accumulated in the eddy of the current off northeastern Hawaii,” Fujieda said. “Plastic debris that flows out of the eddy will continue to be carried to places like Hawaii and Alaska.”

Substances are often used in the manufacture of plastic goods that, if consumed by fish, could cause reproductive abnormalities or interfere with immune cell development. The substances could also become more concentrated as they are swallowed by different organisms along the food chain.

“Human beings could consume chemical substances while eating fish,” Kojima said. “I want to look at ways Japan can provide support for the cleanup.”