Operation Japan Tsunami Debris Cleanup

May 21, 2013
Japan Tsunami debris cleanup efforts in Tofino BC

Who can forget the shocking devastation of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, claiming some 19,000 precious lives.  With the 8.9 magnitude quake sweeping an estimated 25 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean, officials estimate that as much as 1.5 million tons of it could wash up on BC shores.  Travelling at an average of 10 miles per day, it took a full year for debris to start showing up in Tofino.  As memories from Japan continue to sporadically float in, the community rallies with volunteer cleanup efforts. 

With the majority of large debris sinking long ago, it’s buoys, household items, bottles and random things like construction helmets that we’re now seeing wash up with heavier subsurface debris expected to reach some areas starting next month. 

This past weekend, local businesses and Ahousaht First Nations teamed up with volunteers for a beach cleanup in Clayoquot Sound after Atleo River Air Services spotted debris in remote beach areas on Flores Island.  Cleanup crews were transported in by water taxi and treated to a traditional First Nations welcome ceremony and salmon BBQ.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup – a conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF Canada – has been a driving force in the coordination of volunteer cleanup events in targeted areas.  Items from Japan are recovered, inventoried and when possible, returned to their rightful owners. 

Speaking of rightful owners, maybe you heard about the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was found on a beach in Haida Gwaii, north of Tofino?  Its 29-year-old owner, Ikuo Yokayama, was traced using the Japanese license plate.  He was still living in temporary housing after the tsunami had destroyed his home and taken three members of his family.  Hearing of the story, Harley-Davidson offered to restore the bike and ship it back to him however, Yokoyama suggested they preserve it in its current condition and exhibit it to memorialize the tragedy and lives lost.  It’s now on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI.  Read on for the full story and images.

As Japan rebuilds, its courageous spirit shines through with memorial projects including:

  • 500 stone monuments being erected along the tsunami-hit coast
  • 17,300 cherry trees being planted along the 107-mile high-water mark from the tsunami

With nothing but ocean between Tofino and Japan, we offer a standing ovation to the courage and resilience of our western neighbours.  We also extend a heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers for their cleanup efforts and commitment to protecting the delicate ecosystems of our shoreline.

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