At first glance, the new exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre appears to be a jumble of strange and colourful items suspended in a bag from the ceiling. Take the time to look a little closer, however, and you’ll start to see all kinds of interesting things.

The exhibit, created by marine debris artist Pete Clarkson, tells the story of the 2011 tsunami that devastated the Tohoku area in Japan. The tsunami killed more than 18,000 people and displaced over 300,000. Their belongings drifted in the oceans for years before washing up on the shorelines of British Columbia.

Pete Clarkson created this exhibit to show how the currents of the Pacific Ocean connect us all. He has also travelled to Japan to meet tsunami survivors and return personal items that he has found on the beaches near Tofino, B.C.

Cleaning up B.C. coastlines

Pete Clarkson holds up some of the unique items he has found washed up on B.C. shorelines.

Pete explains his vision behind the exhibit, “This display called, ‘Byecatch’ is meant to tell a number of stories. One story is about loss, represented by the assortment of possessions and objects that were carried across the ocean after the Tohoku tsunami. Another story is about connections – recognizing that the oceans connect us all, and that we are all connected to the problem of marine debris pollution. Ultimately I hope people will see a bit of their own lives contained within ‘Byecatch’, and it will challenge them to find ways of addressing the marine debris problem and contribute to healthier oceans.”

The exhibit highlights typical debris found today on the shorelines of B.C. Many items are from the disaster stricken area in Japan, including fishing equipment, shoes and even a wooden statue. While we may dismiss these objects as garbage, no one meant to throw these items out. These things act as reminders of the tragic loss of life associated with the tsunami.

However, many items seen in the new exhibit are not from the tsunami. These items are everyday garbage that enters the ocean from human activities around the world. Plastic drink bottles, fishing nets and shoes are commonly found when the volunteers with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, visit remote beaches.

Tsunami debris exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium

A collection of items that make up the new tsunami debris exhibit at the Aquarium.

Debris from natural disasters like the tsunami is not preventable, but everyday garbage in the ocean is. Over 1.5 million tonnes of debris entered the ocean after the tsunami. However, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic garbage enters the ocean every single year from land based sources. Marine debris entangles thousands of animals every year leading to injury and even death. Plastic debris breaks down into small, microplastics with can then be mistaken for food by fish and other aquatic life and ultimately work its way back up the food chain to our dinner tables.

Tsunami debris cleanup Vancouver Aquarium

This boot, found along the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, is now featured in the tsunami debris exhibit.

You can contribute to healthy shorelines and oceans by joining the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a joint conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and WWF Canada. What will you find on a shoreline cleanup?  Share your photos by tagging #shorelinecleanup on Twitter and Instagram.

Stop by the tsunami debris exhibit on your next visit to the Vancouver Aquarium to learn more and see how many everyday items you find on shorelines near you.

Tsunami debris cleanups and this exhibit are 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 and the Government of Canada.

Blog post submitted by Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

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One Response

  1. Lee

    That green “boot” is not a boot. It’s a shower shoe. Japanese wear them when they need to go in the bath / shower stall and clean it up.


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