Last Tuesday evening, the public had the opportunity hear first-hand from experts regarding the state of tsunami debris in B.C. during a public program at the Vancouver Aquarium titled Japanese Debris: Why We See the Debris in B.C.

Headlining the event were: Dr. Richard Thomson, scientist in coastal and deep-sea physical oceanography, Ocean Sciences Division, Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Paul Kluckner, co-chair of the Canada/British Columbia Tsunami Debris Coordinating Committee and Regional Director General, West & North, Environment Canada; and Peter Clarkson, “flotsam sculptor” and marine debris artist. The event was moderated by Jill Dwyer, manager, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a conservation initiative of Vancouver Aquarium and WWF.

The discussion delved into ways that debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan has been making its way to Canada’s western coast, the potential environmental effects of such debris, and action that is being taken to address the issue.

Dr. Richard Thomson discussed the many factors that might influence the migration of tsunami debris across the ocean, including currents, winds, and waves. He noted that we haven’t seen large amounts of debris on Canada’s western shores, but predicted that debris will continue to arrive for years to come.

Paul Kluckner discussed the collaborative work of the Canada-British Columbia Tsunami Debris Coordinating Committee that began in January 2012 to prepare for incoming tsunami debris. Mr. Kluckner noted how protocols had been developed to address wrecks, environmental/public safety issues, and other potential issues associated with tsunami debris. Thankfully, none of the debris has shown signs of radiation or toxic chemicals, and no potentially invasive species have been found. He also mentioned a few notable tsunami debris items that have been seen to date, including dock sections that arrived on beaches in Washington and Oregon, fishing boats, and  a cement tank.

Peter Clarkson, who has spent the last 15 years combing shorelines of Vancouver Island’s western coast as a Pacific Rim National Park Reserve Ranger, has used the shoreline litter he’s come across to create beautiful works of art. He shared his passion and how it came about, noting that “there’s not one shoreline on one ocean that doesn’t have our detritus on it.” Peter’s marine debris artwork is featured throughout the Aquarium until September 15 ‒ and some of his artwork includes items from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

The speakers noted that the tsunami debris they have seen is “only an increment on top of the everyday litter that plagues our shorelines.” The effect of the Japanese tsunami is one aspect of a much larger environmental issue of shoreline litter, which not only impacts our communities and waterways, but also the wildlife that depends on them.

The evening was intended to increase public awareness of tsunami debris in B.C. and to learn what can be done to address shoreline litter during this fall’s Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, and a joint conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF. The Shoreline Cleanup also launched a tsunami debris volunteer registry in May 2012 for people to sign up to assist communities in western Canada once debris arrives on our shores in larger numbers. Registering for our fall cleanup or tsunami debris volunteer registry is as easy as visiting ShorelineCleanup.ca.

 

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