Two years after a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, debris from that disaster is starting to wash up on San Luis Obispo County beaches.
On March 9, during the first of four coastal cleanups targeting tsunami debris on the sand spit in Montaña de Oro State Park, volunteers with the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo found a yellow plastic bottle with Japanese letters embossed on its base. Any labels that were once on the soap bottle are long gone, replaced by bits of marine growth that had accumulated over the past two years.
An estimated 1.5 million tons of debris were swept into the ocean in the immediate aftermath of the March 11, 2011, disaster, which devastated a long stretch of Japan's northeastern coast and killed thousands of people. Debris has been washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest for months.
During the first cleanup, 56 volunteers scoured more than 20 miles of beach and collected more than 100 pounds of trash, said Kylee Singh, program coordinator for ECOSLO. Common items collected were plastic, glass, Styrofoam, shotgun shell casings and fishing gear.
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The soap bottle was the only item recovered that could be linked to the tsunami. State, county and federal agencies, such as the California Coastal Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are coordinating the debris cleanup and are examining the trash that is recovered.
“It’s hard to say that there is anything else associated with the tsunami until we get experts to take a look at it,” Singh said.
Cleanups targeting the sand spit are scheduled for June 8 and Dec. 14 as well as the annual Coastal Cleanup Day, Sept. 21, that will include beaches throughout the county and state.
“According to local experts, the sand spit has the highest vulnerability to currents headed this way from Japan,” Singh said.