Tsunami debris piling up on western shore

  • Mar. 3, 2015 2:00 p.m.

By Stacey MarpleHaida Gwaii ObserverIt has been four years since the tsunami that devastated Japan, but debris from the disaster is still piling up on the shores of Haida Gwaii. Calm winters have delayed the debris from making its way to the islands, but it’s now coming in regularly, appearing on the beaches in waves. Some tides bring hundreds of pieces of Styrofoam and some bring countless plastic bottles.  A representative of Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN) and Kate Le Souef of the Vancouver Aquarium recently visited Haida Gwaii on a research trip to investigate the environmental impacts. The Haida Gwaii Debris Committee, made up of representatives from every community on island, gave the researches a tour of affected beaches of Haida Gwaii. A helicopter tour of the west coast revealed not just the expected distribution of debris, but piles of it on the beaches and in the coves. Le Souef had just came back from a research trip in Japan. She saw the true, on-going devastation from the 2011 disaster, witnessing what most British Columbians cannot imagine. More than 350,000 houses were destroyed and many people are still homeless. “Whole towns are now gone,” Ms. Le Souef said. Those towns were reduced to 5-million tonnes of debris that set adrift on the Pacific ocean. Although 70 per cent of it sunk off the coast of Japan, the approximate 1.5-million tonnes remaining is colliecting the coasts of B.C.After the tour of the islands, Ms. Le Souef said she was impressed by Haida Gwaii Debris Society and all the hard work they have done to clean up the beaches of Haida Gwaii. “They are doing a amazing job” she stated. The piles of rope, foam, shoes, bottles and the odd tire on remote beaches is a growing problem on Haida Gwaii. “It just shows how connected we all are and how the ocean connects us all,” said Ms. Le SouefThe first official record of debris washed ashore in 2012 near Tlell, the crated Harley Davidson that made international headlines, and was eventually returned to its owner in Japan. Since that find more and more shoreline litter has appeared with every tide. The original predictions thought the worst of problem would be finished by now. But the lack of winter storms have caused the debris to float on the ocean longer than predicted. It’s feared the ocean debris may be leaching harmful chemicals into the water, being eaten by wildlife, or entangling aquatic animals such as otters, sea turtles and birds. In 2014 the provincial government awarded $270,000 to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to expand its tsunami debris removal project. The operation is a joint-conservation program between the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF that has grown into one of the largest direct-action environmental events in Canada, and one of the largest shoreline clean-up efforts in the world. Shoreline litter is one of the most widespread pollution-related problems endangering the oceans. Project organizers said anyone is welcome to join the program at ShorelineCleanup.ca. The cleanup aims to promote understanding of shoreline litter issues by engaging people in the rehabilitation of shoreline areas.

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