The tsunami that struck Japan four years ago sent about 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean.
On Friday, workers began unloading one million pounds of that debris from a barge in south Seattle.
Much of the debris washed up on a remote stretch of Alaskan coastline. After three years of planning, state and environmental groups — financed by a $5 million gift from Japan — spent the past month collecting things like buoys, fishing nets and personal items from victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
Participants said the first-of-its-kind project, which used helicopters to ferry bags of trash from the shore to the barge, was an important first step toward tackling ocean debris problems.
“We haven’t done a project of this scale before,” said Peter Murphy, who heads the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We hope it can be expanded and used elsewhere."
Still, Murphy said more debris washes ashore on the Alaskan coastline every day, including tsunami wreckage.
"The tsunami helped bring awareness to the issue," he said. "But this is just a drop in the bucket."
Volunteers will help sort the debris in the next month. Some items will be sent back to Japan. The rest will be recycled or sent to the Columbia Ridge Landfill in the Eastern Oregon town of Arlington.