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Volunteers sought to scan beaches for tsunami debris

Though not confirmed as debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami, pieces of home construction shaped in a style common in Japanese architecture were found by Del Norte volunteers in April.
Though not confirmed as debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami, pieces of home construction shaped in a style common in Japanese architecture were found by Del Norte volunteers in April. Submitted
Every day that passes since  the March 2011 tsunami in Japan, the bulk of debris washed to sea from the catastrophe inches closer to the West Coast, and you can help track it. 

State and federal agencies are keenly interested in monitoring possible Japanese tsunami debris that lands on American shores through beach cleanups. The latest quarterly cleanups for Del Norte and Humboldt counties are scheduled for this weekend.

Volunteers for Del Norte County are asked to meet at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Point St. George parking lot to comb the beach from there to the mouth of the Smith River.  Beach-worthy vehicles are needed to clean up stretches near Kellogg Road.

Trash bags, gloves and data cards to document debris will be provided, but volunteers should bring their own water and snacks/lunch and comfortable clothes and shoes for scouting the beach.

Call coordinator Joe Gillespie at 954-1641 for further information.

In April, Del Norte volunteers found large pieces of home construction pillars shaped in the mortise-and-tenon character common for Japanese architecture.

“It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt to see what pieces of Japanese houses are washing up now,” said Gillespie, the longtime coordinator for beach cleanups in Del Norte.

A refrigerator, bottles, and jugs with Japanese writing were also found.

Gillespie and the Northcoast Environmental Center are working in collaboration with the California Coastal Commission to collect data on what type of debris is washing up on North Coast shores in the wake of the Japanese tsunami. 

Although it is difficult to positively trace debris back to the tsunami (the skiff that washed up to Crescent City in April was the first confirmed piece in California) there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of debris hitting local beaches, according to Dan Ehresman, director of the Northcoast Environmental Center.

“I think we are seeing an increase in the debris on our beaches in Humboldt County,” Ehresman said. “I was just hiking two weeks ago and found a higher assortment of potential tsunami debris.”

The Humboldt cleanup will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Samoa Beach. Contact Ehresman at 707-822-6918 for more information.

“I think we will continue to see an increase in tsunami debris with the larger mass that’s offshore coming in the next year or so,” Ehresman said.

Samoa Beach and Point St. George were selected because they are known to accumulate more ocean debris.

“I think that one thing that the tsunami debris project is doing is just elevating the problem of trash in our oceans in general, not just from the tsunami but from our daily lives,” Ehresman said.  Single-use plastic items like grocery bags are the biggest contributors to the garbage patches, called gyres, that cover areas twice the size of Texas, Ehresman said.

Potential tsunami debris should be reported to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration at  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Reach Adam Spencer at  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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