Piles of debris turning up on east coast beaches

  • May. 1, 2012 9:00 a.m.

By Jane Wilson-There has been a noticeable increase in beach debris washing up on the east coast of the Graham Island, particularly styrofoam, a surprise to people who were expecting the brunt of tsunami debris to be seen at North Beach.Cacilia Honisch and Carolyn Hesseltine live in Tlell and walk the beach daily.”There hasn’t been much this winter,” said Ms Honisch, “which is when most of the stuff normally comes in, because we have the high tides then.” The two regularly pick up garbage washed up on the beach as they do their daily walks.They say they started noticing more debris in March but it really got worse in the last couple of weeks. There’s also been a change in the flotsam that’s appearing.”Some of the styrofoam we’re getting is the stuff they use inside of boats or containers, it’s that big heavy yellow stuff and you can tell it’s been glued onto something else and there’s also wood on it as well,” said Ms Hesseltine. “There are the floats, but then there’s also structural styrofoam out there as well.”They have a pile of the waste they’ve collected since the middle of April, a pile that is now the size of a small car. “We can’t do the whole beach, but whichever way we walk we try to do it,” said Ms Hesseltine. “It’s a matter of, you can leave it for someone else, or you can do it yourself.”Islanders shouldn’t be surprised that the debris is turning up on the east side of the island, said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer.”It’s not an unusual pattern,” he said, recalling a boatload of Nike shoes lost at sea in 1992. “Remember in the 90s, the sneakers were turning up on the east side.”Dr. Michael C. Healey, professor emeritus of biological oceanography at UBC, had a similar opinion.”Near the coast, winds and tides and freshwater inflow all complicate the current patterns, so debris washing up in apparently anomalous places is not a surprise,” he said.As for why the debris might pass by North Beach and end up on the east side, Dr. Healey said, “the water moving up the west coast of Haida Gwaii will move faster than the water through Hecate Strait. So there will be water spilling east around the north end of Haida Gwaii from the Haida current and coriolis force. The combination of these two flows (up the east side of Hecate Strait and along the north side of Haida Gwaii) sets up a southward drift along the east side of Haida Gwaii.” As more debris appears on Haida Gwaii, Ms Hesseltine and Ms Honisch suggest another reason why islanders might be interested in helping with the clean-up: Ms Honisch found a prized glass ball on one of their recent beach cleaning walks. “There’s a whole bunch of positive reasons to be collecting the stuff,” said Ms. Hesseltine, “but then there’s a prize for that, you just might get lucky.”

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