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Japanese officials sifting through tsunami debris on B.C. coastline

Japanese delegates sort through garbage some of which is possibly tsunami debris on beach on Wouwer Island near Ucluelet, BC September 26, 2013 to investigate the tsunami debris issue in B.C.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

On a surveying trip to the shores of British Columbia, a delegation of Japanese officials got a firsthand look at the debris that crossed the Pacific after Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami 2 1/2 years ago.

Among such debris were Japanese timbers – identified as Japanese by measurements and complex joinery in line with construction materials – that washed up in Ucluelet, said Karla Robison, Ucluelet's environmental and emergency service manager.

"We have received pieces from two feet up to 29 feet long, five pounds up to 900 pounds," Ms. Robison said.

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Some of those pieces had plastic and metal brackets on them.

"You can visualize where a sliding door would be, or where a window would be," she said. "We're taking this very, very seriously … because this could be part of somebody's home. What comes with that is a lot of memories."

The delegation included members from non-profit organizations, the Japan Environmental Action Network and the Japanese Ministry of Environment.

On Wednesday, joined by Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving, councillors, emergency officials and members of the local Japanese community, the Japanese delegates heard about local and regional initiatives to address the debris.

On Thursday, the group boarded a vessel usually used for whale-watching and toured Ucluelet's Broken Group Islands to see firsthand B.C.'s rugged coastlines and how some areas can serve as catchments for debris.

"We were in a zone probably 75 to 100 metres by 40 metres and we collected a huge amount of debris: lots of Styrofoam, plastic bottles, floats, buoys, tiny pieces of plastic, tires and other larger pieces of plastic," Ms. Robison said.

A powerful earthquake off the east coast of Japan in March, 2011, triggered the massive tsunami that killed 16,000 people and washed untold tonnes of debris into the ocean. Experts predict debris levels will peak on B.C. shores in March, 2014, and continue to wash up for several years.

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Japan gave $1-million to help clean up B.C.'s 26,000 kilometres coastline, though Seiji Okada, Consul-General of Japan in Vancouver, has said it also "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 … earthquake."

Ms. Robison said she hopes awareness of cleanup efforts will result in a long-term marine debris program for B.C.

"The amount of waste and debris and driftage material that's entering our oceans has got some environmental consequences," she said.

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