VIDEO: Pacific Northwest preparing for millions of tons of Japanese tsunami debris
In coastal communities from California to Alaska, communities are bracing for a monumental clean-up task. A debris field perhaps the size of California is bringing materials from Japan's earthquake and tsunami ravaged areas across the Pacific Ocean, with some items already making landfall.
On beaches from Alaska to California, local officials are reparing for an onslaught of debris that has traveled all the way across the Pacific Ocean.
Over the next few months, some 25 million tons of debris from the tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan in March will wash ashore in the western hemisphere, a journey of some 4500 miles. Already, debris has been reported on local beaches.
According to the Globe and Mail, lumber bearing Japanese stamps, plastic bottles with labels written in Japanese and as well as a toothbrush with Japanese characters and even a baby's sock have all wound up on Canada's shores. A Tofino businessman has cataloged some of the myriad items he's found.
“There could be some pretty morbid finds,” Jean-Paul Froment, the businessman, said to the Globe and Mail.
Tofino's mayor, Perry Schmunk, said it's important to treat the debris with respect.
“One thing that's key: Whether it be a small item or a piece of lumber, we've got to be sensitive to it. There's a very human dimension involved,” Schmunk said to the Canadian paper. “This isn't a careless piece of litter showing up on a beach. It's the result of one of the biggest human tragedies in recent times.”
There's some disagreement, though, about whether this debris really could have made it from Japan this quickly. According to the CBC, scientists at the University of Hawaii in September insisted that the debris field was still well northwest of the Hawaiian island chain. But recently, they've conceded that some very light-weight debris could have made it to Washington state and British Columbia, though they're still skeptical plastic bottles and toothbrushes could have made it this far already.
"Jeff Mikus, a commercial fisherman for more than 20 years, said he's definitely not convinced the flotsam is from the tsunami, saying he hasn't seen any more debris on the shores or in the water than normal," the CBC reported.
"I think people are just looking more now because, you know, it's coming," he said to the Canadian broadcaster. "People are more aware of it so they start seeing stuff on the beach and they think, 'oh, God,' and they see a little bit of, you know, some kind of Asian writing of some sort."
B.C. officials are formulating a plan for an organized clean-up of the debris, the Winnipeg Press reported. A special working group is being created to coordinate efforts between local governments, the province and national officials.
It's supposed to be in place by Jan. 6, even if there's still debate over where the debris is coming from.