NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette arrived back in its homeport of Honolulu a few days ago after a month in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The team of 17 scientists collected nearly 50 metric tons of marine debris, which threatens monk seals, sea turtles and other marine life in the coral reef ecosystem, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). NOAA has conducted annual removal missions of marine debris in the NWHI since 1996 as part of a coral restoration effort.
Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011 could reach the United States as early as this winter, according to predictions by NOAA scientists. However, they warn there is still a large amount of uncertainty over exactly what is still floating, where it's located, where it will go, and when it will arrive. Responders now have a challenging, if not impossible situation on their hands: How do you deal with debris that could now impact U.S. shores, but is difficult to find?