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Unusual Beach Debris

I’ve been seeing some unusual debris on our beach lately.   It has on some days, changed my morning beach walk from uplifting to rather somber.

It started November 30th, I stumbled across buoy, a rare find on our beach, and I was rather excited to bring it home to use for our own crab and prawn traps.  Tsunami debris at that point was not on my mind. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the Japanese name on the buoy. Admittedly, I did become more sensitive.  It reminded me of how small and connected our world is.  That day I was also surprised by the coloured planks of wood I saw (reds, blues, greys).  Our beaches in the winter are covered with all sorts of driftwood and other wood pieces but they are always brown in colour.  You never see wood building planks with coloured paint.  In fact, most of what our family finds on the beach is organic in nature, with the exception of sea glass and odd bits of garbage that locals go out of their way to dispose.

One day last week, while on a family beach walk, I decided to use my iphone to document of all the debris I saw that day. Plastic beverage bottles with Asian logos,  the sole of a fishing boot, curtains attached to wooden panels, an insulation sheet which looked to be from the inside of a boat, a ton of foam and Styrofoam bits (large and small) everywhere, in some areas small bits creating Styrofoam pools, coloured bits of plastic shrapnel, large pieces of foam and remnants of foam fishing buoys, wooden building planks with coloured paint and/or nails/screws/glue/marine latches, soles of shoes (some quite small) . . .  I have never felt so sad and somber on the beach.

My personal feeling is that what I am seeing is tsunami debris, but of course I am not a scientist, I’m merely an observer.  What I can say, is that in the 7 years I have spent on these particular beaches, what I am seeing is very unusual. 

Emotionally, this has left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness and compassion.  Thinking each piece of debris could have it’s own tragic story. The day I documented with my iphone, tragedy seemed to be strewn all over the beach.  We’ve all seen the images and video footage from the Japanese tragedy and it was almost too much to fathom.  Seeing possible pieces of flotsam from that disaster actually wash up on our shores is equally difficult to fathom, but it brings with it an entirely new sense of reality.  We are not immune, we are all connected.

I think scientists might argue it’s unlikely we are seeing tsunami debris at this stage.  And although I would have to disagree, that argument really isn’t important.  The concern I have (from what I have observed), is are we prepared for the debris we do know is still on its way?  Does our city have a plan to clean up our local shores and are we prepared for the emotional impact?  What can we do as individuals to help?  How can we take action while remaining sensitive and respectful to all of the lives that have been impacted by this tragedy?

These sand beaches are a playground for my kids, my family, my dog, a sanctuary for me . . . What is our plan to keep them clean and safe over the next few years as debris washes in?    

NOAA is a science-based agency working on collecting information about debris and prediction patterns.  They can be contacted with debris sightings –                                     

A Journal of Unusual Beach Debris


by beth

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beth - I believe CTV referred to the bottles as having "Asian script". It is interesting to know where the bottles may have originated from though. I have never seen a bottle with Asian script on this beach before, so to see quantities of them is very unusual. I think more to the point, there are different types of unusual debris washing up which should be a bit of a wake up call for us locally. Not to sensationalize or panic, but to just be prepared for what we do know is on its way. I'm simply observing and what I have seen is not normal. I have no need to argue about whether these items are directly related to the tsunami (although I do have my own personal feelings about that).January 9, 2012 - 11:30 am

YVR-NRT - You may want to contact CTV and tell them that those bottles and debris are most certainly not from Japan. Unfortunately, this is giving Canadians a false impression that Japanese trash is washing up on our shores - when the script on the debris from your own photos clearly shows otherwiseJanuary 9, 2012 - 2:36 am

AMG - I can confirm that the two plastic bottles are well-known Mainland Chinese brands. Not so sure about the juice box but the characters are Chinese. 9, 2012 - 12:47 am

Andrew - Hi, from which beach did you find the debris?January 8, 2012 - 12:16 pm

J.D. Gibbard - I'm a former resident of Japan. Just from the little I can see in your pics I would guess those bottles are not from Japan. The font looks more Chinese style. If a bottle label has zero English/Roman letters then it is probably not Japanese. There may be some tsunami debris someday on your beach but I doubt most of what you've found is from that. You've certainly piqued my interest to do a bit more beachwalking this year but I don't expect to see much for quite a while. A point I've tried to make to people when I've talked about the disaster is that we are expecting a similar event at any time and we are not nearly as well prepared as the Japanese.January 8, 2012 - 10:13 am

Rick Martin - The water bottle with the Chinese characters is the brand of a Chinese company named Wahaha. I live in Tokyo, and I've not seen that for sale here. Most likely not from Japan though. The juice box also has Chinese characters (Chinese characters also occur in Japanese), but the third one -- to my knowledge -- is not used in Japanese. In any case, I'd guess both those products might be from Chinese locals? In any case, I think it's really cool that you're trying to archive this stuff. Please keep it up. Worthwhile effort for sure.January 8, 2012 - 9:41 am

Cid - It may be from the tsunami Beth. There was a scientist on CBC the other day who was talking about exactly that, how more and more may wash up. Love the photos, in a somber, surreal sort of way. They remind me of the "What in the World?" photos that used to be on the back of one of the magazines we got as kids.January 6, 2012 - 7:13 pm

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