California’s largest volunteer event, Coastal Cleanup Day, is rapidly approaching.
On Sept. 15 volunteers will be on the lookout not only for the usual hamburger wrappers, cigarette butts and fishing line, but also for debris from the Japanese tsunami in March 2011.
That debris is only recently beginning to arrive on the West Coast.
No, we’re not likely to see any in Stockton. But there is a real chance volunteers from coastal counties will.
That’s according to Coastal Cleanup Day coordinator Eben Schwartz, who addressed the local chapter of the Sierra Club on Monday night.
The tsunami destroyed 220 square miles and flushed 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean, Schwartz said. About 3.5 million tons sank, but the rest floated out far enough to sea that it was picked up by strong currents and carried across the ocean.
A ship, a motorcycle and a pier have all washed up on Northern coasts and been traced back to Japan, he said. A soccer ball was even returned to its owner, a Japanese youth who survived the catastrophe.
There’s been no confirmed tsunami debris on the California coast just yet, but lots of possible items have been found.
“What we know is we’re receiving this many reports (1,200), you can guess tsunami debris is starting to arrive on the California coast already,” Schwartz said.
Buoys and bottles with Japanese writing on them showed up in Humboldt County, an old refrigerator appeared in San Luis Obispo, and a suspicious cell phone battery was spotted on a beach in Santa Cruz. Because many Japanese products are used here, it’s going to be tough for Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers to be able to identify, with certainty, tsunami debris. They’ll be carrying cards listing potential items that they might be most likely to locate, Schwarz said.
While the whole thing is awful, he said, it’s important to maintain some perspective. More than 7 million tons of trash is dumped into oceans around the world each year, compared to the 1.5 million tons from this particular disaster.
“It really does pale in comparison to what we pick up every year regardless,” Schwartz said.