Between 2014 and 2016, more than 10 metric tons of marine debris was removed annually from the west coast of Vancouver Island, much of it tsunami debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan.
Author: JuaRachel Schoeler, Manager, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an Ocean Wise initiative
Reviewer: Chloé Dubois, co-founder of The Ocean Legacy Foundation, a partner in The Vancouver Island Marine Debris Working Group
Banner Photo Credit: Kate Le Souef
Three consecutive summer shoreline cleanups on Canada’s iconic West Coast Trail resulted in the removal of over 10 metric tons of marine debris and drifted materials. Eleven kilometres of shoreline were cleaned over 119 person- days of effort, and 87 supersack bags plus loose items of human-made material were collected and removed (Figures 1 and 2). Each supersack bag holds about one cubic metre or 100 to 200 kilograms of material.
After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami the Government of Japan estimated 1.5 million tonnes of driftage – commonly referred to as tsunami debris – was left floating in the Pacific Ocean. Ocean surface currents have brought much of this debris to the West Coast of North America. The Government of Japan provided a gift of $1 million dollars to the Government of British Columbia to assist with cleanup efforts; this funding was dispersed to a number of B.C.-based organizations.
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup – a conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF Canada that is dedicated to inspiring Canadians to keep all shorelines free of litter – received funding to host remote cleanups along the West Coast Trail from 2013 to 2016. In 2016, Shoreline Cleanup staff and volunteers made their way out to the West Coast Trail for the last time with the Tsunami debris funding to remove as much as they could from this remote and rugged shoreline. Without this funding the future of these remote cleanups is uncertain.
Why is it important?
Marine pollution is one of the biggest issues facing our waterways today. There are often stories in the news about fish, seabirds, and even whales with stomachs full of litter. For example, scientists recovered four kilos of plastic bags from the stomach of a whale found stranded in Scotland. But if we are all disposing of our personal litter properly, then where is all of this litter coming from?
Shoreline litter can come from a number of different sources:
- Recreational Activities
- Smoking Related Activities
- Fishing and Shipping
- Medical and Personal Hygiene
- Natural Disasters
Many of these sources of debris and shoreline litter can be reduced by human behavioral changes but as we continue to see more and more extreme weather events, the need to better understand how to address shoreline litter from natural disasters increases significantly. Staff and volunteers from the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup were able to learn first-hand just how different a cleanup from a natural disaster can be compared to a typical community cleanup.
What is the current status?
While out on the cleanup, staff and volunteers were sure to keep an eye out for any materials that may have writing with different languages, especially Japanese characters, as this was reported to funders. As debris was collected from the shorelines and pulled from under large logs at the high tide line, it was sorted and tracked item by item to be reported on afterwards.
The relative volume of different items found on a more remote shoreline, such as the section of the West Coast Trail that was cleaned, differs from what is found on a more urban cleanup. Along the West Coast Trail, many larger items and more fishing-related items were found instead of your typical garbage bag full of cigarette butts and plastic bottle caps (Figures 3 and 4).
It is also important to note that even though this last cleanup on the West Coast Trail was supported by the Tsunami Debris fund, it is often hard to track the items back to Japan and from that one single natural disaster. There were definitely items found that came from other parts of the world, reminding us that we are all connected by our oceans. Cleanups need to continue along our coastlines to protect the health of our oceans and wildlife.
What can you do?
Individual and Organization Actions:
- Learn how plastic impacts the environment, and how you can make a difference with everyday actions, such as reducing your use of single-use plastics like plastic bags, straws, cutlery, and cups.
- Attend a cleanup effort as a volunteer or provide support in other ways (monetary, in-kind donations) to help the groups that are already out there.
- Keep asking questions about the shoreline litter you find in your community, track it, and determine the sources of shoreline litter that are of high concern in your area.
- Let all levels of government, from municipal to federal, know how you feel about the impacts of shoreline litter. Use the data from your shoreline cleanup to back up your points.
- Lead or Join a Shoreline Cleanup. Rally together a group of your friends, family members, or colleagues to clean a shoreline near you.
- Keep your collected shoreline items out of the landfill by repurposing and recycling as many of them as possible.
Government Actions and Policy:
- Implement policies to reduce or ban single-use plastics.