© 2018 by Coastal Interpretive Center. 


Tsunami is a word of Japanese origin (TSU - "harbor" + NAMI - "wave") meaning a long, high sea wave caused by an earthquake, submarine landslide, or other disturbance. Tsunamis have occured in the Earth's oceans for millions of years with cyclical regularity due to tectonic activity, underwater landslides or volcanoes, or other seismic activity. Over three-quarters of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean. Many individuals and agencies are actively studying tsunami causes, predictablility, and preparedness due to the devastating effects of tsunamis on coastal communities and river basins.


Recent Pacific Ocean Tsunami


We at the Coastal Interpretive Center continue to hold the victims and survivors of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami in our thoughts and prayers.  In this event, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck approximately 240 miles northeast of Japan. The quake created a wall of water 23 feet high that swept over the northeast coast of Japan’s main island, as far south as Tokyo, and up to 5 miles inland in some areas. The incredibly strong inward-bound wall of water traveling at high speed, and the destructive power of the huge volume of water draining off the land destroyed entire towns along the coast, and an estimated 4.8 million tons of debris were swept into the ocean. While the heaviest items sank, there is still an estimated 1.5 million tons of buoyant debris that have been caught up in the ocean currents.


Beaches on the eastern side of the Pacific have not, to date, seen the large influx of debris from Japan that was initially expected. All of the U.S. Pacific states including Alaska and Hawaii have all seen items arrive on their beaches over the last four years, however. Docks, small boats, appliances, lumber from houses and ships, and smaller debris have been found.

One largely reported story of debris coming ashore was the concrete dock that appeared on Oregon’s coast in June 2012. Read the full story and subsequent updates by Oregon.gov here: (read more) The Huffington Post also continues to report Japanese tsunami debris finds. (read more)


Marine Debris and Japanese Tsunami Debris


Man-made items such as Styrofoam, plastic, glass, metals, and treated wood wash up on Washington Coast beaches every day, and have done so for years - including those with Japanese, Korean and Chinese writing. Any items such as these are difficult to definitively identify as originating in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disastrously affecting the east coast of Japan. It is recommended to simply dispose of these items in a State Park or Ocean Shores City dumpster, and we thank you for helping keep our beaches clean!


If you see debris that you believe should be reported, please call the Washington State Dept. of Ecology at 1-855-WACOAST (1-855-922-6278).


Reliable sources of Information


  • The Washington State Department of Ecology. The Washington State Dept of Ecology reports that it is highly unlikely that any of the tsunami debris is radioactive. It is much more likely you may discover hazardous materials such as oil drums and containers with unknown fluids. DO NOT TOUCH ANY OF THESE ITEMS, and please call 1-855-WACOAST (1-855-922-6278) and press “1” right away. More information especially as it relates to the Washington State Coast here: (click for link)

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created a special website dedicated solely to Tsunami Debris information. There are excellent articles, as well as a very solid FAQ page: (click for link)

  • The Ocean Conservancy. The Ocean Conservancy also offers comprehensive information: (click for link)



There are many websites available for additional information about the 2011 tsunami. Here are links for two:


NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information


livescience.com (April 2015)