Researchers expose environmental effects of the Japan tsunami

Plastic found in sea birds, fish

Published  5:30 PM HST Mar 11, 2013
HONOLULU -

It's been two years since we awoke to dramatic pictures and video from Japan where a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit the country with a devastating tsunami that followed.

Large debris from that tsunami is still washing up on Hawaii's shores.

The debris, big and small, covers every inch of the Kamilo Beach coastline on the Big Island.

The foreign markings show most of it coming from Japan.

Hawaii Wildlife Fund's Megan Lamson has seen debris from Japan hit at a growing rate since fall.  One of the items was a refrigerator with Japanese writing on the temperature dial.

There were also large buoys and even an intact fishing boat from Japan.

Volunteers from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund have been fighting the already big problem of marine debris only made worse with the 1.5 million tons of floating tsunami debris.

"It's disheartening to come out here and see all this marine debris in an area that's otherwise so remote.  Debris that's washing up from other countries," said Lamson.

Inside a dead albatross, plastics filled its body.  David Hyrenbach, a professor from Hawaii Pacific University, and his team are researching the alarming rate of debris in the birds.

Inside the stomach of a 2-month-old albatross, they find part of a drain and part of a hair brush.

About 80 percent of this baby bird's stomach is indigestible plastic fed by its parents who confused it for food.

"Morally this is terrible," said Hyrenbach.  "How is this possible?  Majestic, beautiful, far-ranging birds in a pristine place of the Pacific, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.  You open them up and this is what you find."

Hyrenbach says every single bird he's opened up had some sort of plastic.  Some large ones, like toys and lighters, were found in the adult birds.

It was also found in our fish.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Biologist Lesley Jantz cuts into the stomach of a lancetfish.

It may look scary, but this is what yellowfin and big eye tuna eat.  This is the tuna that ends up on your plate.

Nearly half of the lancetfish Jantz cut into had plastic.

"One concern that we don't know is if any chemicals absorbed into the tissue of the fish, which is a problem if consumed by a fish we consume," said Jantz.

A disaster still in the making is widening its reach.

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