Local volunteers will take part in a massive shoreline cleanup this month.
The Vancouver Island Marine Debris Working Group has organized a coastal cleaning event that will see a barge carry debris collected from across B.C.’s shores to a recycling plant in Richmond.
“In British Columbia, it will be the largest ever cleanup event so it’s very historic,” Ucluelet’s manager of emergency and environmental services Karla Robison told the Westerly News.
The coast-wide project is expected to use up the remaining funds from a $1 million donation from the government of Japan to B.C.’s Ministry of Environment in 2013 to help the province handle the expected influx of debris headed for B.C.’s coast after a devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.
“The Government of Japan was gracious enough to provide the funding to help keep our shorelines clean,” Robison said. “We’ve signed an agreement with the Ministry of Environment who’s administering those funds to spend those dollars effectively and efficiently and then also provide some educational opportunities for different folks to really learn about tsunami marine debris and the story and the legacy that’s entailed.”
The Haida Gwaii Tsunami Debris Committee, Living Oceans Society, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, District of Ucluelet, Ocean Legacy Foundation, and Surfrider Foundation are all on board to participate.
“All the different clean up groups are getting out there and doing as much clean ups as they can in preparation for the barge coming down the coast, which is anticipated to take place the first week of September,” Robison said. “Our West Coast of the Island is very rugged so some of these groups are getting out into very remote locations.”
For Ucluelet’s effort, Robison has organized five multi-day camping trips from Aug. 6-25 for local volunteers to help collect debris and tsunami driftage within the Pacific Rim National Park’s Broken Group Islands. Each trip will see roughly nine volunteers collect as much driftage as they can and consolidate it all into sacks to be slung to the barge by helicopter.
Ucluelet was the only B.C. community to participate in a similar effort last year where a roughly 100-metre barge traveled through Alaska and onto Ucluelet collecting roughly 3,334 super sacks—1-tonne agriculture bags—of marine debris and carrying it all to Seattle to be recycled.
That event was put together by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
“That barge that came though last year was filled with a lot of tsunami marine debris materials and we are finding these items on our shorelines as well. It’s not to the same severity as Alaska but we have a tremendous amount of material out there,” Robison said.
“It’s hard to prove unless you have a serial number, but there’s been a lot of signs indicating that the material we’re finding is from the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.”
She said a wide variety of tsunami driftage has landed on the Coast.
“Either they’re household items or actually parts of people’s homes and when you start to see that, especially as an emergency services manager, you start to get a bigger picture of the severity and magnitude of that disaster and what that means,” she said.
“Then you really put it into context of, ‘What are our risks of it happening on our shoreline?’”
She added any tsunami-related items found during August’s cleanups would be separated and safeguarded so they can either be returned to their owners or put on display.
“It’s a very interesting story and people care and they want to learn more about it,” she said.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a public event that can showcase the items that we find and, hopefully, that provides some peace and hope for the people that lost those items and helps to remind people that we need to be prepared for an emergency event on our coastline.”
Robison has worked closely on Japanese tsunami driftage since her first week on the job back in 2012 when she attended a meeting with the Consulate-General of Japan in Vancouver.
“The Consulate-General basically asked for the communities to take the issue seriously which initiated, through council’s leadership and support, Ucluelet’s marine debris program,” she said.
“[Ucluelet’s] council, especially mayor [Bill] Irving back in 2012, took the Consulate-General’s ask seriously…It really created a lot of momentum back then because nobody was really doing anything so Ucluelet ended up being a leader in this because, at the time, not a lot was actually happening.”
With council’s support behind her, Robison went to work setting up a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved monitoring site where materials were collected and recorded with anything tied to Japan safeguarded in an attempt to return it to its owners.
Her efforts caught the attention of various organizations like the Japan Love Project, a group of Vancouver-based Japanese students who visited Ucluelet several times to participate in cleanups and events as well as a a group of roughly 70 students who traveled from Japan as part of the International Volunteer Student Association.
Robison said the connections made led to Ucluelet forming strong international relationships.
“Japanese organizations, volunteers and government officials would come here for memorial events or cleanup events or just for fact finding and learning,” she said.
She added tsunami related driftage is still floating towards locals coastlines but the peak of the materials landed in November 2012 with a second peak hitting in March 2013.
A University of Hawaii study suggested the majority of materials would arrive by 2014.
“The model from Hawaii suggested that after 2014, debris would arrive to our shorelines for up to five years if not longer,” she said.
“A lot of the debris sank right away when it was washed off the shore of Japan, some of it has sunk along its way to our shorelines some of the material is circulating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the subtropical convergent zone and some of it has washed upon our shorelines.”
She said many materials have likely not been found yet due to the remote nature of the West Coast’s shores.