Message in a Bottle

By Alan Hendrickson

BottleMessageShortly after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, scientists released transponders off the Japanese coast to track debris. These devices look like large orange soda bottles with short antennas, and contain radio equipment to transmit their location. They only have a battery life of about 30 months, and then they must be physically found for the data to be collected, according to Samuel Chan, a watershed health specialist with Oregon State University Extension and Oregon Sea Grant.

Researchers from Tattori University for Environmental Studies in Japan collaborated with Oregon State University, Oregon Sea Grant, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program on the project. Their goal is to track tide and current movement to determine where and how fast tsunami and other debris spreads. An estimated 1.5 million tons of debris were swept out to sea by the tsunami, and is expected to continue to wash ashore on the West Coast for several years, according to Chan.

The bottles are not hazardous devices. If a transponder is found, pictures and information about where it was found should be sent to Chan at or the NOAA Marine Debris Program regional coordinator via They will provide shipping instructions to return the instruments. One of the first transponders to reach the West Coast washed ashore near Arch Cape, Oregon in March of 2013, roughly 19 months after being put out to sea.