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Debris from last year’s Japan earthquake and tsunami is slopping up on West Coast shores, and the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is taking names and numbers to create a registry of willing participants, ready to let loose a slew of volunteers to help pick up after Mother Nature’s terrible tantrum.
The shoreline cleanup crew will be on call to travel to communities where this debris will accumulate. It is expected that thousands of people will sign up to take part.
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup has recruited volunteers for the past 19 years and each fall these volunteers hit the beaches and shorelines to pick up garbage of all sorts.
This year the cleanup will take place Sept. 15 to 23. Last year, 56,000 Canadians took part in the cleanup in 1,600 locations across the country.
So far the items linked to the tsunami washing up on the coast range from bottles and canisters, boats, floats, transport trailers, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and last month an entire industrial-sized dock traveled the 5,000 miles across the ocean to beach itself on Oregon’s shores.
Parts of people’s homes are being found, as well as some hazardous goods. So far testing of the debris has not turned up any radioactive material. Nuclear reactors on Japan’s coast were compromised in the March 2011 natural disaster.
It’s anticipated that there will be 1.5 million tonnes of tsunami debris to be dealt with over the coming years, with the lion’s share of it expected sometime in 2013. West Coast landfills will not be able to handle the amount of waste expected, so strategies are being developed for its removal. Even salvage companies are anticipating a boom in business, some traveling the waters in search of items of value.
Jill Dwyer, the Great Canadian Shoreline manager, headquartered at the Vancouver Aquarium, said trash and debris on the oceans is not a new problem, but the amount of it anticipated prompted the annual cleanup group to want to be prepared with people with a desire to help coastal communities.
Dwyer said when the community becomes overwhelmed with the trash coming ashore, all they need do is call in the crew, and volunteers will make their way to wherever land meets the water and there is a need.
Dwyer said the response so far from volunteers has been fantastic.
“There are a lot of people out there that want to help.”
First Nations communities on the coast are bracing for the worst of it. Some fear there will be so much debris that their communities could become locked in by trash clogging up their harbours. If that happens, the communities will be in very dire circumstances, without clear passage for their boats to get in and out with supplies, or float planes unable to find a safe place to put down near their villages.
The debris poses problems for marine animals as well, and this poses issues for fishermen and others who live off the bounty of the sea. Marine life could ingest toxic materials. There are risks from choking and entanglement.
A baby humpback whale beached itself on the BC shore at White Rock in June, suffering from being wrapped with a tangle of commercial fishing line, believed to have originated in Japan. This led to difficulties for the creature eating, causing emaciation and eventual death.
“Ocean debris is a larger issue that goes beyond just one incident,” said Dwyer. But this one incident is going to require an extra effort on the part of thousands of people.
The shoreline cleanup crew is part of a tsunami debris committee formed in January to formulate a strategy on dealing with the garbage. The committee includes representation from local, provincial and federal governments.
Curtis Dick of Ahousaht is taking the lead for his community. Dick is one of two emergency coordinators for the community, and he has been worried about the potential chaos and economic cost of the debris field that is heading his way. He even launched a facebook page called Tsunami Debri watch-West Coast where he hopes to “share resources, information and thoughts” about the situation the communities up and down the coast will face.
He poses six questions on the page, including: Are we ready? Who is in charge? And, when do we get involved?
Dick said he has been “barking up people’s trees” over the last few months and isn’t getting a lot of information about who is going to be responsible for this material as it comes ashore, or even if it’s going to be allowed to come to shore.
He said there may be a plan to go out and collect the material before it clogs the beaches.
He’s advising his community to be careful around tsunami debris, especially around hazard material containers that have been at sea for more than a year.
Mark it on the map and leave it, he said about what to do if something like that is found.
The important thing is to keep people safe.
For more information about the Great Canadian Shoreline initiative, visit www.ShorelineCleanup.ca/tsunami
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