The magnitude-9 earthquake that rattled northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011 unleashed a savage tsunami that washed an estimated five million tonnes of debris into the sea. About 70 per cent of it sank off the coast of Japan, leaving approximately 1.5 million tonnes floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Since leaving Japan, the debris has been widely dispersed by ocean currents and winds. Some of it continues to sink or be trapped in the garbage gyres; some of it has made its way to B.C.’s west coast. The amount isn’t yet known, and there is little access to remote areas to successfully find and remove it.

On Tuesday, March 18, in an announcement made at the Vancouver Aquarium by British Columbia’s Environment Minister Mary Polak, the provincial government of B.C. awarded $270,000 to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to expand its tsunami debris removal project along the west coast of B.C. The funding came through a one-time grant of approximately $1 million from the government of Japan, and was presented to the government of Canada last year to help clean up tsunami debris.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF Canada, and presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, is the largest direct-action conservation program in Canada. Since the first cleanup in Stanley Park by Vancouver Aquarium staff and volunteers in 1994, it has grown to include more than 58,000 Canadians a year who clean the shorelines of lakes, rivers and oceans in their local communities from coast to coast. More than 243,000 kilometres in length, Canada’s coastline is the longest of any country in the world.

With a well-established network of site coordinators, working relationships with local communities and organizations, and shoreline cleanup safety protocols, the Shoreline Cleanup program is perfectly positioned to tackle tsunami debris in B.C. In fact, it’s already begun. To date, more than 2,300 people have signed up for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup tsunami debris volunteer registry and several shorelines have been identified as being in need of tsunami debris removal.

The new funding will be used for training and education about debris identification and disposal, cleanup supplies, and transportation of volunteers and collected debris in and out of remote areas.

For those who would like to keep all our waterways healthy, sign up to participate in this spring’s Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, taking place from April 1 – July 31. Register to clean a shoreline near you at ShorelineCleanup.ca.

If anyone sees something on the beach that appears to be a source of pollution or hazardous material, contact the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre at 1 800 663-3456.

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