As our boat approached George Fraser Island, just three kilometres south of Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, the rocky shoreline actually looked pretty clean. We could see one or two fishing floats, but not much else.

George Fraser Island looks pretty clean at first glance.

George Fraser Island looks pretty clean at first glance.

We were there as part of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF’s Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited. The Shoreline Cleanup team is coordinating waste removal from remote beaches along the western coast of British Columbia, which have been affected by debris from the Japanese tsunami in 2011. Our team joined Parks Canada and the District of Ucluelet for a cleanup at this seemingly pristine island.

However, it quickly appeared that we were wrong. As soon as we stepped onto the island, we were completely overwhelmed by the volume of marine debris. Within five minutes, we filled three huge garbage bags. As we walked along the rocky shoreline, our boots crunched beneath us as we stepped on countless plastic water bottles trapped beneath driftwood. Styrofoam was everywhere, from huge bulky floats as large as a person, to tiny foam beads which had broken off larger pieces.

Tsuanmi debris clean up in partnership with Japan.

Huge pieces of Styrofoam are slowly breaking into tiny pieces along B.C. beaches.

Everywhere we looked, there was more to uncover. We found many items that are unfortunately commonly found on remote beaches: plastic water bottles, fishing floats, plastic household items and a large fishing net.

We also found items that appeared to originate from Japan, possibly transported to our coast by the devastating tsunami of 2011. We found Japanese plastic bottles, household items and a fishing pallet. Most apparent of all, we found lumber with distinctive Japanese woodworking joints and grooves. The lumber appeared to be broken at one end, perhaps where it had been torn from a house by the tremendous power of the tsunami. This was an emotional discovery and we took a moment to hope that the people from this particular house survived.

Japan tsunami debris cleanup from BC Beaches.

Distinctive grooves and woodworking joints are visible on Japanese lumber.

George Fraser Island is a tiny island, with just two kilometres of coastline. In five hours, we only accessed about one kilometre. We collected 25 garbage bags of debris, five gas canisters, 20 huge foam blocks, 100 fishing floats and a fishing net, which will all be removed by helicopter.

A giant fishing net washed onto the beach.

A giant fishing net washed onto the beach.

As we scrambled up to a pocket beach infested with plastic bottles buried in soil, we looked out at the 100+ islands known as the Broken Group. The enormity of this project was suddenly crushingly real to me. We have a lot of shoreline to clean.

Tsunami debris is a tiny fraction of the marine debris problem. You can help make a difference in your own community by reducing your consumption of single-use plastics and disposing of garbage responsibly. You can also participate in, or host your own Shoreline Cleanup this fall from September through October and take a stand against shoreline litter in your own community.

If you know of a shoreline affected by tsunami debris, email the Vancouver Aquarium at [email protected]

This project is made possible by the generous contribution from the Government of Japan and its people. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Environment.

This blog post is submitted by Kate Le Souef, Tsunami Debris Cleanup Coordinator with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. 

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