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Three Years Later, Where Did Japanese Tsunami Debris Go?

Eyewitness photo
Wash. Marine Debris Task Force
File photo of a fishing skiff found on the Washington coast in May 2013.

It's been exactly three years since a huge tsunami in March 2011 took thousands of lives in Japan and washed whole villages out to sea.

Suspected tsunami debris started arriving on our shores the following December, but it's been less than feared.

Nir Barnea, the federal coordinator for marine debris in the Pacific Northwest, says we may never know for sure where the majority of the tsunami debris went.

"A lot of the debris was made of wood. If you look at the photos from early after the tsunami, you see a lot of wood out there. Some of it -- maybe even most of it -- has sunk. Other debris may not have reached us. It has dispersed and may never reach us."

Barnea is awaiting confirmation from the Japanese consulate whether a derelict skiff that washed ashore near Westport, Washington in January can be traced to the 2011 tsunami.

One other skiff with Japanese writing on it was found on the British Columbia coast this winter.

The Oregon Emergency Management division and governor's office are currently considering whether to shut down the Oregon Joint Tsunami Debris Task Force because it's no longer needed. Washington shut down its marine debris hotline at the new year because so few people were calling.

If you find something on the beach that looks like tsunami debris, you can still report it by email to:

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.