Invasive Debris

Two years after the tsunami in Japan, unwelcome species infiltrate West Coast waters.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan, triggering a massive tsunami. ­ Three million tonnes of Pacific Ocean water surged through the streets, taking anything it could in its path back into the ocean. While much of the wreckage has sunk to the ocean floor, a large amount has made its way to North American shores. To counter an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of debris washing up on B.C.’s shoreline, the provincial government and the Vancouver Aquarium have initiated programs that counterattack potential damage to the coasts.

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, founded in 1994 by the Vancouver Aquarium, schedules cleanups across Canada for any body of water affected with litter. With over 56,000 volunteers in 2011, the program helps to control the massive amounts of wreckage posing a threat to Vancouver’s shorelines. ­ The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s goal is to help people become aware of the damage caused by debris, while raising awareness about where garbage goes.

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A fuel label warning in Japanese.

Invasive Species

A significant concern is the introduction of invasive species. In June 2012, a massive 66-foot dock was found in Agate Beach, Oregon. The 165-tonne pier transported more than its weight in steel and concrete; it also carried millions of individual organisms. Of these organisms, starfish, wakame kelp, and crabs—all of Japanese origin—were among the mix. Scientists at Oregon State University are concerned that the wakame kelp, listed as one of the top 100 invasive species, could clog fishing harbours and block much needed sunlight from marine life on the ocean bed. Northern Pacific sea stars, as well as Japanese shore crabs, also pose a threat because they feed off native species that make up local marine life.

Although this natural disaster took place an ocean away, the wreckage that continues to wash up on North American coastlines is a reminder of how connected our planet is.

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Pelagic Gooseneck barnacles are among the invasive species discovered on the West Coast after the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

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