Tsunami Debris

By Ken Campbell

The Ikkatsu Expedition, a small group of sea kayakers documenting the incoming debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, found something quite interesting on the second leg of its survey of the remote beaches along Washington’s wild west coast: a soccer ball. The team recovered the unmistakable item on a remote beach on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The ball was marked with the name of a club in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, and it appears to have traveled to the Pacific Northwest after the tsunami hit the Japanese coastline on March 11, 2011. In addition to the writing, the ball bore the outlines of attachment points from pelagic barnacles that had formed as it made its way across 6,000 miles of ocean, from one side of the Pacific to the other.

Otsuchi was one of the communities hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. The town of 16,000 lost more than 10 percent of its population as a result of the quake and the devastation that followed, including critical government and emergency personnel. Even now, a year-and-a-half later, the town is still feeling the effects of the tragedy.

The Ikkatsu project has completed two of the three sections of Washington's roadless coast that it is surveying for debris over the course of the summer. On the first segment of the expedition, the team found a portion of a Japanese house that had made landfall on a beach south of Cape Flattery. This second, 30-mile leg, from Hobuck Beach to La Push ran through the heart of the Olympic coast, much of which lies within the boundaries of Olympic National Park and features numerous survey locations that can only be accessed by water. Team members Ken Campbell, Jason Goldstein and Steve Weileman will begin kayaking the third and final segment of coastline, between La Push and Ruby Beach, on August 6.

The specific observations and data gathering and sample collection are being coordinated with members of the science advisory team, including Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, NOAA, and the Coastal Watershed Institute. The Washington chapters of the Surfrider Foundation are contributing financial support for expedition operating expenses.

Ikkatsu is a Japanese word that translates as "united as one," which is a concept that the tsunami debris illustrates in a powerful way. The idea that an event that occurs on the other side of the world can have such a profound effect in our own back yard is something that should bring home the idea of interconnectedness for each of us. We are all riding on the same planet. The vast expanse of the ocean doesn't keep us apart; it is what joins us together.

Click HERE for additional information and updates from the expedition. Read about the telling first leg of the expedition HERE, and see the video below.