Tsunami Debris Removal & Recycling

Debris from the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake & Tsunami

The Japanese government estimated 1.5 million tonnes of tsunami debris was left floating in the Pacific Ocean. Since leaving the coast of Japan it has been widely dispersed by ocean currents and winds. According to the Marine Debris Program at the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most of the heavier materials sank closer to Japan’s shore. The volume of debris has been lower than anticipated and there have only been a handful of confirmed pieces of tsunami debris washed up on B.C. shores.

What is B.C. doing to address tsunami debris?

With the gift from the Government of Japan of $1M to assist in clean-up of tsunami debris, the Province of B.C. has been able to support local clean-up efforts for the past three years and is currently finalizing agreements for the 2016 season supporting on-the-ground cleanup and recycling/disposal efforts for affected coastal communities and First Nations.

Funding has gone towards:

  • Support for coastal communities, First Nations and non-profit societies with debris management and clean-up activities.
  • Shoreline monitoring and removal and disposal of large objects of tsunami origin.
  • Geographic information to support shoreline clean-up efforts
  • Support for tsunami debris clean-up efforts in coastal provincial and federal parks.

All of the funding received from the Government of Japan has been allocated for work conducted from 2013 to 2016.

  • $206,893 - Vancouver Aquarium - Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup
  • $254,000 - Haida Gwaii Tsunami Debris Committee
  • $166,200 - Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council
  • $111,538 - District of Ucluelet
  • $60,000 - Coastal First Nations
  • $10,179 - Surfrider Foundation – Vancouver Island
  • $25,000 - Ocean Legacy Foundation
  • $85,000 - Living Oceans Society
  • $65,000 – PICES

How much & what kinds of debris?

There has only been a minimal amount of confirmed tsunami debris in B.C. – mostly large-scale items such as a motorcycle in a shipping container, a large cement tank and small fishing boats. Efforts are being directed towards suspected tsunami debris consisting of lumber, plastics and polyfoam, fishing nets and buoys.

According to Health Canada, since the marine debris was generated and dispersed offshore several days prior to the Fukushima nuclear reactor plant leak, contamination from radiation is very unlikely as is radiation risk to marine species and ecosystems in B.C. No radiation beyond background levels has been observed in the five years since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Periodic monitoring continues.

Most tsunami debris came from land and does not pose an aquatic invasive species risk; however, some marine-based objects might. As potential tsunami debris is located, samples are being taken and provided to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for analysis.

What to do if you find something?

If members of the public come across shoreline debris that they think may be related to the 2011 tsunami, they should contact: