From Japan To Waimanalo

Isaiah Kamai and the mystery bin. Ron Mizutani photo

It was just after noon on a windy Sunday. Isaiah Kamai was talking with friends at a party near Shriner’s Beach Club in Waimanalo when he noticed something being tossed around in the surf about a quarter-mile offshore.

“I had no idea what it was, but once it got inside the surf and started drifting to shore, I had to find out,” says an excited Kamai. “It was blue and it looked like a big cooler. I knew it was something that I had to check out.”

The curious Kamai kept a close eye on the mysterious square box as strong ocean currents pulled the bin toward Waimanalo Beach Park. Kamai kept pace, walking barefoot along Kalanianaole Highway, his eyes fixated on the drifting object.

“I wouldn’t let it out of my sight,” he laughs.

It took about an hour before it reached the shoreline. Kamai was startled when he saw Japanese kanji writing on the side of the box and immediately thought “tsunami debris.”

“I ran down to the beach and pulled it out of the ocean,” says Kamai. “It was heavy, but I was able to carry it up the rocks and onto the highway.”

My wife and I were driving through Waimanalo when we spotted Kamai sitting on a guardrail next to the large, blue bin. The kanji writing and thick layer of barnacles on the bottom of the bin caught my eye, and I quickly did a U-turn.

“I think its tsunami debris!” Kamai yelled out to me. “I don’t have a phone to call anyone. Can you help?”

I called the state’s tsunami hotline and alerted officials of the find. As we waited, Kamai shared his thoughts.

“I’m tripping out that this may’ve come all the way from Japan,” he said as we stood on Kalanianaole Highway staring at the barnacles. “If this is tsunami debris, just think: Thousands of people died that day. It makes me sad.”

Kamai’s words struck a nerve with me. Having spent time at ground zero in Ishinomaki and Sendai one month after the deadly March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, the thought that this may’ve come from northern Japan sent chills up my spine.

“Yes, if this is tsunami debris, it has come a long way,” I responded. As exciting as it was to see, the mysterious blue bin nearly brought me to tears.

If confirmed this was from Japan, it wouldn’t be the first tsunami debris to surface in Waimanalo. Last September, workers at Makai Ocean Engineering spotted a blue plastic bin floating near Makai Pier and Sea Life Park and brought it to shore. That bin also was covered with barnacles.

Japanese consular officials later confirmed that the bin was a fishing box from Fukushima. At the time, it was the first piece of marine debris to wash ashore in Hawaii and the 12th confirmed piece to hit United States or Canadian waters. Those numbers have since increased.

University of Hawaii researcher Nikolai Maximenko says 1 million to 2 million tons of debris remains in the ocean, but less than 5 percent of that could reach American and Canadian shorelines, including Hawaii.

Kamai’s discovery in Waimanalo may have been the latest to wash ashore.