Trash Free Seas

Video: Surveying Tsunami Debris in Japan

The tsunami’s devastation is still evident in Japan as recovery efforts continue.

Nearly 18 months have passed since 100+ foot waves swept over the Tohoku region of Japan. Most of the world—along with many Japanese outside the region—assumes recovery and rebuilding efforts are almost complete. But Ocean Conservancy Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos knows from firsthand experience that this is far from the truth.

Mallos recently spent several weeks in Japan meeting with International Coastal Cleanup Coordinators in the region and learning as much as he could about the coastal debris left in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. He walked the streets and shorelines of Kamaishi, Ryoishi and other villages in Iwate Prefecture, and says “the damage is indescribable.”

The landscape is peppered with children’s toys, handbags and shoes, he says. “It’s as if 18 days – not months – have passed since the tsunami hit.”

While in Japan, Mallos joined forces with members of Cleanup Gamo and Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN) to address the remaining debris by conducting beach cleanups. While cleaning just a 10-foot square area, he collected a list of items most people find scouring an entire beach.

“Millions and millions of smaller debris items sit in the infinite crevices created by fallen trees or broken concrete,” he said. “The tumultuous waters entangle twigs, ropes, fishing line and an array of debris items that one could spend hours trying to disentangle.”

After surveying the devastation along Japan’s coast, it was clear to Mallos that the process of cleaning up and rebuilding will be a long and costly one.

“The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was above all a human tragedy,” Mallos says. “My heart goes out to the families and communities who have been affected in ways that are still felt today.”

But it’s important to remember that while nature caused the tsunami, the vast majority of debris in the ocean was there a long time before last year’s disaster and was caused by people, not by nature.

The good news is that this problem is preventable, and we can make an impact with the choices each of us makes every day. By removing and reducing the amount of trash in our ocean and waterways, we can help ensure that the ocean is more resilient in the face of unavoidable natural disasters.

Help Keep Our Ocean Clean

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