Two years after a massive earthquake and the resulting tsunami took 16,000 lives and washed 1.5 million tonnes of debris into the ocean, Japan has given Canada $1-million to help clean up the British Columbia coast.
"This is an important symbolic gesture by Japan. … It is an amount of money we accept with great humility," federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Asked if he didn't feel the money could have been better used for rebuilding efforts in Japan, Mr. Kent suggested Canada accepted the funds more as a point of honour than to pay for the actual cleanup of B.C.'s 26,000-kilometre coastline.
"I think it would have been churlish to refuse to accept what is an important
gesture of the continuing friendship [between Canada and Japan],"
Mr. Okada said his government has made similar $1-million grants to each of the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California to help make amends for the debris that has been washing ashore for several months, and which is expected to keep coming for another year.
Mr. Okada said the grant "represents a token of gratitude to the government of Canada and the Canadian people in recognition of the tremendous support provided to Japan in the wake of the March, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake."
He praised the federal government and the people of Canada for responding so quickly and generously after the earthquake, saying the Canadian Red Cross alone provided $15-million.
Mr. Kent said 16 federal government departments co-ordinated efforts to assist Japan, and Canadians had donated $40-million.
He said the $1-million grant from Japan will be transferred to the B.C. government and will be used to support coastal communities and first nations in their debris-planning management and cleanup efforts.
Mr. Lake said neither the provincial nor federal governments have dedicated any special funds to what is expected to be a long-running operation.
"It's existing budgets to this point," he said, estimating that government may have spent up to $500,000 so far in a variety of cleanup and monitoring efforts.
He said reports of debris continue, but so far it seems less has made it across the Pacific than was first feared. Ocean experts say winds and tides will deliver material from the Japan tsunami until the summer of next year.
Mr. Lake said communities will be encouraged to apply for cleanup funds, but some of the Japanese grant money will be held back in case it is needed to remove large objects. Last year, a 185-ton, 20-metre floating dock washed up on the rocks near Forks, Wash., but so far, B.C. has seen nothing like that, although a fishing vessel drifted past Haida Gwaii before the U.S. Coast Guard sunk it in Alaskan waters.
Mr. Lake said debris is being monitored for invasive species or pollutants such as oil or chemicals.
"In terms of radiation, that fear has largely been put to rest," he said, dismissing concerns about debris contaminated when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged.
Will Soltau, who has been mapping debris for the Living Oceans Society found around the northern end of Vancouver Island, said large amounts of foam blocks, plastics, buoys, floats, propane bottles, nets and 45-gallon barrels are washing ashore.
He said volunteer cleanup efforts are planned for remote coastal beaches this spring and summer, when the weather improves.