Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Great Tsunami of Hype

I've been holding my tongue on this one, but since the chatter has settled down, I'll have at it. I am not saying that the debris from the devastating tsunami in Japan last March is not coming our way, but it's not here yet. (At least the bulk of it. There are a few exceptions — large fishing floats washing up in Oregon were confirmed to be from the tsunami. More on that below.) A few bottles with Japanese/Korean/Chinese writing on them is nothing new and I'm a bit distressed that people don't realize that. This stuff is always on our beaches (and yes, toothbrushes and kiddie socks, too!) so the cause-and-effect — there was a tsunami here so, ergo, all of that Asian garbage on our beaches is from that tsunami — is not lining up.

Ocean currents do not make a beeline across the Pacific. There are large currents - most quite slow moving - that circulate ocean around the Pacific and the world. This link shows the moving of the debris and modelling that predicts when we might expect the bulk of the debris. Of course it is going to depend on the "floatability" of the debris, but there's not much here yet. What there is though, is a lot of ships out in the Pacific, tossing their crap over the side.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying this is not an important issue, but it's too soon to equate the tsunami with the debris. Snarkiness aside, I am glad the media ran with the story (well, sort of, because so few of them did any good research) because we do need to start planning. I just hope it's not to early because when the bulk of the debris does begin to arrive, we need to have a plan. And it needs to be coordinated across jurisdictions. I just hope we haven't lost interest by then.

This article, by Tofino's Keven Drews, presented a balanced point of view. Thanks, Keven, for doing a bit of legwork to get a well-researched story that didn't ramp up the hype. And you can listen to a podcast from CBC's The Current, taped on the beach in Tofino, which does a pretty good job as well. Here it is.

I'm glad that the province will be setting us a tsunami debris working group - let's hope it gets done soon. In the meantime, do keep an eye on what's on the beaches and, as always, pick up the crap.

There is a good link here, written by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who has been studying the activity of debris in the North Pacific for decades. Note that he says that debris could arrive by October, 2011, but qualifies that by saying it is large debris (really large) that would mostly be above water, thus being sailed by winds quite a bit faster than just travelling in an ocean current.

A local surf shop, Live to Surf, has been asking people to submit things they find on the beach. Here is their link.

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