Federal Funding Assists In Tsunami Debris Cleanup

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by Russ Slaten

US coastal states are receiving small federal grants to assist in removing tsunami debris from last year's natural disaster in Japan.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said the money is a start in a long cleanup process.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is offering coastal states up to $50,000 for the ongoing problem of marine debris removal.

In the case of Alaska, much of the debris comes from the tsunami that pummelled the shores of Japan last year. Officials are seeing orange buoys and styrofoam blocks, likely from fishing vessels, appear on Alaska shores.

NOAA made the funding available through it's marine debris program. Overall, the agency had $4.6 million for debris removal, with $618,000 specifically for tsunami debris cleanup.

The Alaska DEC said the tsunami debris may not be toxic, but over time, may be devastating to the marine and wildlife.

"Bears play with the styrofoam and cause it breaks apart, then the smaller animals eat it, and it's not digestible, so eventually it can block their gastrointestinal tract, and they die of malnutrition," said State Marine Debris Coordinator Elaine Floyd.

Floyd said the $50,000 is part of the solution, but not the final answer.

The Alaska DEC said it will likely begin cleanup into September or later in more sheltered areas, places that may not have very much tsunami-related debris.

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