Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common items of debris that have been washing onto West Coast beaches. Click the image to download the complete version.
Marine debris generated from the March 11th tsunami is drastically different from the ocean trash that was already plaguing our ocean. Over the coming months, there may be many difficult-to-collect debris items from the tsunami such as housing and construction materials, fishing gear and vessels. We could also find potentially dangerous items such as combustibles, as well as personal items related to the victims. Therefore, it is critical that volunteers and beachcombers document each item of debris they encounter on beaches with the highest level of scrutiny.
Ocean Conservancy welcomes Japan’s contribution of support and assistance to the tsunami debris response effort – and just as governments are working together on the issue, so have nonprofit organizations. For more than 20 years, Ocean Conservancy has worked closely with our partners, the Japanese Environmental Action Network, tackling preventable ocean trash. Now, they are on the forefront for response efforts following the tsunami. The magnitude of debris that will wash onto U.S. West coast beaches remains uncertain; therefore, the best action we can take at the moment is ensuring we are adequately prepared to handle any and all predicted debris.
The coast of southeast Alaska is renowned for its stunning beauty, and the pocket beach outside the town of Sitka was no exception: dark sand piled with tangles of storm-tossed logs and fringed with emerald grass. From a distance, the beach looked pristine.
But as our boat pulled closer, we began to see what we had come for: trash. Chunks of polystyrene foam, plastic bottles, lengths of line, bits of faded blue tarp and pieces of netting were wedged in the piles of driftwood and strewn in the beach grass. It was time to get to work.
I was in Sitka to take part in a series of beach cleanups that brought together staff from Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and the Sitka Sound Science Center, along with volunteers from Allen Marine and Holland America Line. Together, we set out to find and remove marine debris that had washed up on the shores of nearby islands.
Yoshiko Ohkura (center) of JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network) cleans a beach at Gamo Tidal Flat. Credit: Nick Mallos.
How much are some people willing to give to solve the problem of ocean trash? In the case of the amazing partners who organize the International Coastal Cleanup across entire countries and U.S. states, the answer is: everything they have.
We call them the “sea stars of the Cleanup.” Meet just two, Azusa Kojima and Yoshiko Ohkura from JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network).
Like their fellow coordinators around the world, they manage a host of responsibilities, including:
identifying sites on the water to be cleaned and overseeing those sites;
educating the public and rallying a volunteer network;
engaging reporters from radio, television, newspapers and online news sources;
arranging cleanup day logistics; and
ensuring that data collected by volunteers reaches Ocean Conservancy for publication in the annual Ocean Trash Index.
JEAN’s efforts on behalf of the Cleanup for more than 20 years are legion. Now the recognized marine debris leader in Japan, JEAN unified existing cleanup efforts and inspired more participation by educating the public about the dangers of ocean trash. From 800 volunteers at 80 sites in 1990, JEAN has grown the Cleanup exponentially, with more than 22,000 volunteers at 234 sites in the peak year to date.
A 66-foot dock that washed up in Oregon was identified and confirmed as tsunami-related debris. Credit: NOAA
As Interim President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy and a resident of the Pacific Northwest, I watched with concern the news of a large Japanese dock landing in Oregon after being washed away by the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan. In the Tacoma News Tribune, I explain why we should be concerned about the tsunami debris heading our way and what we can do:
While it is still too soon to know exactly how big a problem this debris will be for U.S. shores, the International Pacific Research Center estimates that 5 percent or less of the approximately 1.5 million tons of debris in the Pacific Ocean could make landfall.
To prepare for what might come, we should prioritize baseline monitoring, modeling and outreach in communities. Ocean Conservancy has been working closely with the Obama administration, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as they ramp up response efforts.
In addition to monitoring and volunteer cleanups, we also should be advocating for the resources that may be needed to deal with the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude.
Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos
Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.
This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.
Surfers cross a debris-laden barrier island at Gamo Beach, Japan. Credit: Nick Mallos
A good wave is always worth the sacrifice. It’s a unanimous sentiment shared by surfers around the world. For surfers at Gamo Beach, Japan, though, it’s not pounding surf that yields a challenge.
Instead, a 200-meter-wide body of water requires them to paddle out to a barrier island, only to traverse another 100 meters of beach where remnants of houses, car parts, bottles and innumerable other tsunami debris items litter the sand. Still, they reach the waves.
Walls of water 10 feet tall formed this island, left this debris and destroyed—or at least severely damaged—everything in its path as it moved inland. Debris piles five stories tall are the only elevation visible on the coastal horizon.
The cleanup effort here is much further along than in the Tohoku region, but progress is relative considering the magnitude of destruction. I joined forces with 11 members of Cleanup Gamo and Jean Environmental Action Network to address this remaining debris in the best way we knew how: a beach cleanup.