By Ken MacQueen - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 0 Comments
Trash continues to wash ashore in North America
For 21 months, a 20-metre concrete and steel dock floated across the Pacific from Japan only to wash ashore just before Christmas on a remote beach on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Researchers think it’s part of a 1.5-million-tonne debris field adrift in the ocean after an earthquake-generated tsunami smashed into the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011—and a harbinger of a greater mess due to hit the North American coastline in the next few months.
Governments from Alaska, B.C., Washington, Oregon and California are co-operating with their federal counterparts and local governments on clean-up plans and strategies to deal with anything that makes land—including aquatic species not native to North America—as the winter storm season reaches its peak. The latest report from the Japanese environment ministry said most light, wind-blown debris like Styrofoam and buoys have already hit the Alaskan and B.C. coasts. Lumber, much of it from houses ripped apart by the tsunami, is expected to hit the coast between now and June, though tracking what remains afloat is an inexact science. Other debris discovered to date includes a fishing boat and a motorcycle in a shipping container.
The origin of the Olympic Peninsula dock has yet to be confirmed. Researchers are testing for radioactivity and to ensure the array of sea life attached to it doesn’t include invasive species from Japan. The nearest communities to the site are Forks and La Push, famous haunts in the Twilight series of books and movies, and a suitably eerie setting. A similar 150-tonne dock that washed ashore in Oregon in June proved to be an ecological nightmare, home to no less than four invasive species native to Japan. It was sterilized with blowtorches before it was cut up and hauled away.
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 5:16 PM - 0 Comments
Oysters, mussels, sponges, worms could pose threat to local species
A 20-metre-long dock, swept away by the Japan tsunami of March 2011, washed up on a beach in Newport, Oregon, this week—carrying with it an intact Japanese marine ecosystem and a host of troubling questions.
Questions one and two: how to dispose of the dock—one of at least four of significant size that ripped away from coastal Japan in the aftermath of the 9.0 earthquake near Honshu—and what to do with the sea life that hitched a 14-month ride across the Pacific Ocean? Clinging to the dock are oysters, mussels, sponges, worms and other invasive species that present a risk to the U.S. coastal environment.
The dock is the largest piece of tsunami debris to hit either the U.S. or Canadian Pacific coast so far, but it’s certainly not going to be the last. Last month, Maclean’s wrote of a 49-metre fishing boat that almost completed its trans-Pacific voyage only to be blasted out of the water by the U.S. Coast Guard as a hazard to navigation. The Canadian coast has been peppered with plastic bottles, lumber and, of course, the famous Harley Davidson motorcycle that spilled out of a shipping container onto an isolated beach on Graham Island.
The latest estimate by the government of Japan is that 1.54-million tones of debris remains afloat. That a piece this size could float undetected for so long raises serious concerns about marine safety. That the debris is arriving so soon shows how little we really know about the effect of winds and ocean currents. On its website, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans still stubbornly declares the first wave of debris “is expected to begin arriving in waters off North America in 2013.”
Someone should alert the DFO to the fact that the debris already has its own Facebook page, courtesy of the Maritime Museum of B.C.
The B.C. government has also created a site for coastal communities and beachcombers to report incoming debris.
The Japanese government has requested that any personal items discovered by treated with respect. So far that has been the case. Even the dock has become something of a makeshift memorial, with Oregonians dropping off flowers to commemorate the tragic loss of lives.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, May 11, 2012 at 1:01 PM - 0 Comments
Some scoffed when Tofino’s mayor first warned of the approaching barrage of Japanese washed-up objects. Not now.
It began in December with a flotilla of bottles, cans and lumber with Japanese trade stamps washing up on the beaches of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Mayor Perry Schmunk, among those who gathered the debris, was the first elected official to raise the alarm that wreckage from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, was hitting the North American shore more than a year earlier than expected. While skeptics doubted Schmunk’s claims, events have proved him right.
In recent weeks an abandoned 49-m Japanese fishing vessel drifted to within 500 km of the B.C. coast before it it was sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard. A soccer ball belonging to 16-year-old Misaki Murakami, who lost his family home in the disaster, washed up on an island off Alaska. Most recently, a shipping container hit the shore of Graham Island in B.C.’s Haida Gwaii, spilling a rusting Harley-Davidson onto the beach. “I think there’s no doubt now that it’s coming ashore much quicker than everyone anticipated,” says Schmunk.
So far the largest item to hit Tofino beaches is a 45-gallon drum that once held a ﬁsh extract, but communities along North America’s West Coast expect much worse. An estimated 1.5 million tonnes of material light enough to float was swept out to sea. Much of it is expected to swirl in what is known as the North Paciﬁc garbage patch between Hawaii and North America, but significant amounts could hit beaches from Alaska to California by October. Posters in Washington state advise beachcombers to be aware that garbage, personal belongings and hazardous material will wash ashore. “It is extremely unlikely any human remains from the tsunami will reach the U.S.,” the signs say.
By Jason Kirby - Monday, March 19, 2012 at 2:47 AM - 0 Comments
Post earthquake and tsunami, personal items may wash up on Canada’s west coast
Over the past few months, debris from Japan has been washing up on the shores near Tofino, B.C., sparking debate over whether the bottles, planks of wood and other items constitute regular ocean garbage or were swept out to sea amid last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami. But as the country slowly rebuilds from the disaster, which left thousands dead and missing, Japanese officials aren’t taking any chances, and have reached out to residents along Canada’s West Coast to keep an eye out for personal items that may wash ashore.
Japan’s consul-general Hideki Ito recently invited Bill Irving, mayor of Ucluelet, and Tofino Mayor Perry Schmunk to discuss what can be done if more sensitive items show up on the region’s beaches. “There’s a very real possibility that we’ll have some stuff come ashore here,” says Schmunk. “His message to us was that if we see something that has some personal connection to somebody back in Japan, they will make every effort to get it back to their people.”
It’s not clear yet exactly how the process of returning personal effects to Japan will work. Schmunk says there will be questions of identification, storage and transportation that need to be worked out. For its part, the province has agreed to establish a task force to deal with the tsunami debris, the bulk of which is expected to begin arriving in 2013.
Schmunk says that in his talks with the Japanese, it became clear they see the return of any personal items as key to the long healing process the country has undertaken. “It’s not just about ad hoc litter that made it into the water,” says Schmunk. “[The consul-general] stressed that, all things considered, Japan is recovering quite quickly, but the emotional scars are still deep, and the connection to this material is of great importance to them.”
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 3:58 PM - 0 Comments
The fishing village of Minamisanriku takes small steps toward recovery
But push on north as the sun is setting over the Tohoku region, toward the town of Minamisanriku, and the blackness overtakes you.
First the mountains roll in toward the coast to swallow up the roads; then, little by little, the lights are extinguished. What’s missing is all the ambient light that vital, living towns emit. I’ve seldom driven in such pitch darkness. That’s what a ghost town after dark looks like. And Minamisanriku is very nearly a ghost town.
When I was last in Minamisanriku the roads were strewn with muck or littered with boats, the buildings were decorated with the ropes and buoys of the oyster farms that once thrived here and the tsunami, which struck shortly after the massive earthquake of March 11, toppled buildings.
All that’s gone now—the streets scrubbed, most of the debris carted away and sorted into metal or wood or plastic. What’s left isn’t much of a town. Continue…
By Jason Kirby - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
When 700 workers were evacuated from a Japanese nuclear power plant, these few stayed behind to battle a meltdown
In an age of 24/7 cable channels, news sites, blogs and Twitter feeds, it’s not unusual for the attention of great swaths of humanity to turn to the plight of a small number of souls, such as trapped miners or the survivors of mass shootings. When a 9.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Japan’s east coast on March 11, and a towering tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, however, the world watched in horror, and with hope, as a small army of workers fought to prevent the plant’s nuclear reactors from melting down and filling the skies with deadly radiation. Rarely before did so many feel they had so much at stake in the success of so few.
They became known as the Fukushima 50, a nameless, faceless last line of defence against a full-blown nuclear catastrophe. They stayed behind when, four days after the earthquake and tsunami happened, spiking radiation levels forced the evacuation of 700 employees of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owned and operated the plant. That skeleton crew struggled to pump water into the reactors to keep them from overheating.
It was brutal work, and the threat of radiation poisoning was constant. A series of hydrogen gas explosions destroyed reactor containment buildings, sending 11 workers to hospital. Throughout the ordeal, workers were also constantly buffeted by aftershocks and the threat of yet another destructive wave washing through the power plant.