The Cleanup Continues, Five Years after Tsunami in Japan

VANCOUVER, March 10, 2016 /CNW/ - Five years after Japan was struck by the most powerful earthquake in its history, debris continues to be cleaned up from the British Columbia coast.

The quake, which struck five years ago tomorrow, on March 11, 2011, triggered a series of destructive tsunami waves, some of which reached 40 metres high and travelled up to 10 kilometres inland. The disaster took more than 18,000 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and washed tons of material into the ocean, where some of it was carried on currents to the west coast of North America.

Efforts here to remove the debris — which has been washing up in B.C. since 2012 — will continue this spring, summer and fall. In 2014, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and WWF-Canada, received funding from the Province of British Columbia to expand its tsunami debris removal project along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The funding helps transport volunteers and cleanup supplies into remote areas, and to remove the debris that is collected.

"It's a big undertaking, and the work isn't done," said Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. "When we're out collecting these items on remote B.C. beaches, we're reminded of the scale of the human tragedy in Japan. It's sobering, but it's also crucial to remove man-made debris from those shorelines to prevent it from damaging our ecosystems and entangling or being ingested by animals."

Through the Shoreline Cleanup's tsunami debris removal project, volunteers have cleaned more than 34 kilometres of remote west coast shorelines. They have collected, sorted and removed 19,650 kilograms of debris — from tiny pieces of plastic, to appliances and large pieces of foam. Every effort is made to recycle or repurpose debris to avoid landfill. Japanese items found include fishing buoys, construction lumber, property markers, shoes, plastic bottles, plastic fishing pallets and drink bottles. Items that may have a personal significance are treated with respect. Although it's clear many items originated in Japan, they are unfortunately not often traceable to an individual.

"We've also noticed a huge volume of items that are not from the 2011 tsunami," said Le Souef. "Litter comes from other man-made sources such as single use plastics and fishing materials, and it's a critical issue in all water systems across Canada. While debris from natural disasters is unavoidable, everyday garbage is preventable when appropriate measures are taken."

Bettina Saier, WWF-Canada's Vice President for Oceans, adds that what's out of sight shouldn't be out of mind.

"Marine debris is one of the biggest issues facing our oceans today. This litter can distribute toxic chemicals throughout the oceans, snag and tear corals, and harm animals if they ingest pieces of plastic or become entangled in the debris," says Bettina Saier. "Because of this, it's important that we do everything we can to stop the estimated 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean every year. This alone contains enough bottles, bags and other plastics to cover an area the size of Manhattan Island ankle-deep in trash 34 times."

Trash in our waterways is a threat to our communities, to wildlife and habitat and to our health. In 2015, nearly 60,000 registrants removed almost 180,000 kilograms of litter from more than 3,000 kilometres of shoreline across Canada.

"While it can be challenging to assist with tsunami debris cleanups on remote B.C. coastlines, anyone in the country can join the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and help clean up a shoreline in their own community," said Le Souef. "It's an opportunity to clean up litter before it can ever get into our waterways."

Canadians can be part of the solution by organizing a cleanup at local shorelines at any time of year. Registration is now open at ShorelineCleanup.ca.

The tsunami debris project is 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.

About the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, is one of the largest direct action conservation programs in Canada. A conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and WWF-Canada, the Shoreline Cleanup aims to promote understanding of shoreline litter issues by engaging Canadians to rehabilitate shoreline areas through cleanups.  ShorelineCleanup.ca

About Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a nonprofit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life.  www.vanaqua.org

About WWF-Canada
WWF-Canada builds solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that together, wildlife, nature and people thrive. Because we are all wildlife.  wwf.ca

Loblaw Companies Limited
Loblaw Companies Limited is Canada's food and pharmacy leader, the nation's largest retailer, and the majority unit holder of Choice Properties Real Estate Investment Trust. www.loblaw.ca

Note to editors and producers: photos and footage is available.

SOURCE WWF-Canada

For further information: Deana Lancaster, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, 604.659.3752, deana.lancaster@vanaqua.org

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www.wwf.ca

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