Experts estimate approximately 3 billion pounds of debris were swept into the ocean during the March 2011 Japanese tsunami resulting from the 8.9-magnitude earthquake affecting coastal communities in Japan.  Based on modeling done by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) the debris will continue to wash up on the shores of Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia.

Beach litter, especially plastic marine pollution, can prove detrimental to marine life. Plastic pollution kills whales, seals, turtles, birds and fish every year through ingestion and entanglement.  The tsunami debris obviously provides a sudden onslaught of debris in the marine community, but it is only a small fraction of the overall ocean litter that is produced every year.  The tsunami produced an estimated 3 billion pounds of debris in the ocean; however, there are an estimated 18 billion pounds of trash entering the oceans every year.

What has Surfrider Done for Tsunami Debris Lately?
All Surfrider Foundation local grassroots Chapters conduct regular beach clean ups where they see plastic (in the form of bags, bottles, cigarette butts) and other marine litter that degrade our beaches and the marine environment and ruin the recreational experience.  In light of the tsunami debris threat of a higher concentration of foreign objects and unknown impacts to our coastal ecosystem, Surfrider Foundation Chapters along the West Coast and in Hawaii have stepped up to address this new hazard through:

Educational Workshops

Surfrider Oregon and other NGO and government partners teamed up to host a series of twelve educational workshops along the Oregon coast.

The Kaua’i Chapter in Hawaii hosted a Japanese Tsunami Debris Conference in February 2012 at the Kaua'i Community College.

The Olympic Peninsula Chapter in Washington has also held tsunami debris symposia with experts from government and academia.  For instance, the Olympic Peninsula Chapter partnered with Clallam County Marine Resources Committee and NOAA to host a three-day symposium on tsunami debris in Port Angeles, Washington.


In Oregon, Surfrider Foundation has worked with SOLVE, Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon State Parks and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission Habitat Program to design a poster informing and encouraging the public to help with tsunami debris clean up.  On the ground in Oregon, Surfrider Foundation and SOLVE increased their cleanup efforts by over 100% compared to last year, offering more beach clean up opportunities for volunteers.

In California, the Sonoma Chapter of Surfrider Foundation is working with NOAA to prepare and monitor for potential tsunami debris washing up on northern California beaches. 

In Washington, Surfrider also joined forces with Senator Marie Cantwell’s office in a press conference to support a federal legislative amendment that would help address surveillance and cleanup of the debris, as well as raise awareness about the general issue of trash in our oceans.


We help keep our supporters informed on current tsunami debris news through our social media efforts, including Twitter Accounts @Surfrider, @RiseAbovePlstcs and @Envirosurf, as well as through our weekly SOUP enewsletter. 

Surfrider is working with the Pacific Coast Collaborative, West Coast Governors Alliance and NOAA on beach cleanup protocol and reporting.  Surfrider also partnered with Algalita Marine Research Institute and 5Gyres to support their summertime educational journey to explore tsunami debris.

To learn more and stay informed, check out our tsunami debris blogs on our coastal blog:

What Can You Do to Help?

1) Reduce the everyday stream of plastic pollution by reducing your plastic footprint: refuse single-use plastics, remember your reusable containers, and recycle the rest.  Sign the Rise Above Plastics Pledge and also support plastic pollution source reduction actions such as plastic bag bans.

2) Research the Japan tsunami debris field with our friends at 5 Gyres and Algalita.  Their recent summer voyage added to the knowledge base of tsunami debris patterns and types of debris.

3) Help with a Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup.  Most Surfrider Chapters host at least one cleanup a month, click here to find the website for your local chapter.

4) If you come across potential tsunami debris on sea or land, NOAA has tips for reporting it.

5) Follow the issue here on the Coastal Blog, Beachapedia, Twitter or Surfrider’s Take Action Page for updates on tsunami debris, plastic pollution, and more.