On March 11th, 2011 the Mw 9.0 2011 Tōhoku-Oki earthquake resulted in a tsunami which caused major devastation in coastal areas. Along the Japanese NE coast, tsunami waves reached maximum run-ups of 40 m, and travelled kilometers inland. Whereas devastation was clearly visible on land, underwater impact is much more difficult to assess. Here, we report unexpected results obtained during a research cruise targeting the seafloor off Shimokita (NE Japan), shortly (five months) after the disaster. The geography of the studied area is characterized by smooth coastline and a gradually descending shelf slope. Although high-energy tsunami waves caused major sediment reworking in shallow-water environments, investigated shelf ecosystems were characterized by surprisingly high benthic diversity and showed no evidence of mass mortality. Conversely, just beyond the shelf break, the benthic ecosystem was dominated by a low-diversity, opportunistic fauna indicating ongoing colonization of massive sand-bed deposits.