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Coast watchers keeping eye out for tsunami debris

  • From left, Sally Sorenson, Darris Nelson, Caroline "Cea" Higgins, Miki Takada and Keary Sorenson prepare to search south Salmon Creek State Beach, for Japanese tsunami debris, Thursday July 5, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

For a decade, Cea Higgins has combed Salmon Creek Beach to pick up garbage, but she and other habitual beach-walkers now have an added mission: watching for debris from the Japan tsunami that is headed for the West Coast.

"It is early right now, but my prediction is that come the storms this winter, that is when we will see the debris," Higgins said.

Higgins, a member of the Sonoma Coast chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, is a volunteer beach-walker trained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to collect and catalog tsunami debris.

Searching For Tsunami Debris

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Debris from the March 2011 earthquake-spawned tidal wave has already been found in Washington and Oregon, but so far there has been no verified tsunami debris found along the California coast, said Sherry Lippiatt, a marine debris specialist for the national agency.

Even a bottle with Japanese writing that was found Thursday at Salmon Creek Beach is not necessarily from the tsunami.

"We have gotten a number of potential sightings, but debris from Asia washes up all the time," Lippiatt said. "With this monitoring program and the types and quantity of debris, hopefully we can detect a change and know if we are getting debris from Japan."

Lippiatt was at Salmon Creek Beach on Thursday to meet and train volunteers. Salmon Creek is one of 60 monitoring sites along the West Coast and in Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands.

The federal agency is providing trash bags, cameras, tape measures, clipboards and reporting forms to volunteers.

Miki Takada of Santa Rosa, a member of the Stewards of the Redwoods, speaks and reads Japanese and is also available to help determine the origin of debris.

The federal agency has formulated computer models to predict when and where the debris might show up. At this point, all scientists can say for sure is that there is a debris field now north of Hawaii and it is being driven by wind and currents toward the West Coast, Lippiatt said.


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