Mallos and colleagues from the Japan Environmental Action Network, the Oceanic Wildlife Survey and the Japan Ministry of the Environment just completed a beach survey in Hawaii in search of this tsunami debris. They found about six or seven items, including the rusted Japanese refrigerator and buoys, which very likely came from the tsunami, Mallos said.
"We're not seeing a massive wave of debris wash onto the shore at one time, but right now, what it's been is a slow accumulation of debris here and there," he said.
The tsunami debris is a problem, but it's part of a much bigger issue, Mallos said. Hawaii is awash with plastic trash from all over the world; the islands also neighbor the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the North Pacific where currents push masses of plastics into a suspended gyre of trash. Long story short: The oceans are a mess.
The Hawaii survey turned up masses of this typical ocean garbage, including fishing nets and traps, Mallos said. One of the stranger items was an intact plastic trashcan from Los Angeles County with "Heal the Bay" stickers on it. Heal the Bay is a nonprofit group that works to clean up California's Santa Monica Bay. In an unfortunate irony, one of the group's trashcans got into the ocean and floated some 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) to end up on a beach in Hawaii.
"It really highlights the fact that trash travels very far," Mallos said.
The average person can do their part to reduce ocean trash, Mallos said. Because consumer plastics are a huge part of the problem, resolving to use reusable grocery bags, coffee mugs and water bottles can keep one-time use plastics out of the oceans. The Ocean Conservancy has developed a free app, called Rippl, designed to nudge users into a more ocean-friendly routine by reminding them to take those sorts of small actions.
The problem of typical ocean trash is inextricably linked to the issue of tsunami debris, Mallos said. Tsunamis aren't preventable, but regular ocean litter is, he said.
"To the extent we can keep regular forms of ocean trash out of the ocean, in the face of disasters, the ocean becomes more resilient and better equipped to deal with the debris," he said.
The new survey was funded by the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency of Japan.
This article originally appeared on LiveScience.com.
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