Murray Leslie

Murray Leslie

Tracking tsunami debris in the hands of citizens

Masses of debris from Japan expected to hit West Coast over Christmas

A wooden box stamped with Japanese characters sits hidden beneath a pile of seaweed and a sizeable chunk of kelp near the waters of Telegraph Cove – an image of what is expected to hit West Coast beaches this December.

This prop didn’t actually float over from Japan following the devastating earthquake from March, 2011. But if it did, Murray Leslie, a member of Ocean Networks Canada’s software development team, would be doing the right thing, as he kneels down on the beach and snaps a photo with his smartphone.

Logged into Coastbuster, an app designed to get the public reporting marine debris, Leslie captures an image of the box and with a few strokes across the phone’s touchscreen, categorizes his finding, simply answering what he has found and whether or not it appears hazardous.

“Pretend we’re on the West Coast and there’s nothing but wild ocean out there,” Leslie says at the Cadboro Bay beach in Saanich. “Stuff can just wash in here and it’s very difficult for it to wash out again. They expect debris like this to accumulate for at least the next two or three years.”

To catalogue actual debris, Leslie would wait until he got back on a Wi-Fi network and upload his curious photo to Ocean Networks Canada via Coastbuster.

Ocean Networks vets all such images then sends them along to authorities from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Ministry of Environment, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The lab uploads also the photos to the Coastbuster Flickr account, where anyone can browse, share and comment on the findings.

“It’s important that (debris) gets recorded and the people who will be able to do that are the ones who live or work in the area, the people who are actually out walking the beach on a daily basis and able to say, ‘Hey, that wasn’t here yesterday,”’ Leslie says.

Residents on the West Coast, from Washington to Alaska are about to start seeing a lot of debris that wasn’t there yesterday. The bulk is projected to be a mere few hundred kilometres from the coastline, and expected within a matter of weeks with the normal circulation of the ocean. Winter storms could see that debris – more than a million tons – wash up anytime between now and Christmas.

Winds have already pushed lighter objects floating closer to the surface of the ocean to our shores, says Kate Moran, president and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada. Oceanographers are now expecting denser objects below the surface and floating too deep for satellite recognition, she says.

“If (an object) is large enough and we can get good dimensions on it, it might help scientists understand the ocean currents better, because it has a certain density and they can calculate the depth at which it was floating,” Moran says.

Uses for the app, developed through a partnership with Simon Fraser University’s spatial interface research lab, could also be applied to a range of tracking initiatives.

“Say there’s some kind of impact on coastal fauna, like oyster beds, or muscles, or clams – we could actually have a campaign and people could document where they are and where they’re not.

“It could be applied for other things: surfers could use it to document where the best waves are,” Moran adds with a laugh. “It’s for people to suggest and we’re open to promoting other campaigns if there’s a need.”

Last June, Cara Lachmuth, volunteer co-ordinator for the Vancouver Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a coastal preservation group, led a group of 16 during an annual clean up of Vargas Island north of Tofino. The group picked up one whole ton of debris in a single day on Vargas Island – a hefty load given their requirement to log all of their findings and submit an annual report to NOAA.

“That’s fairly intensive work, to take an entire year of data and write a report,” Lachmuth says “To have an app available, so we can submit it all instantaneously with pictures is amazing. We’re volunteers and anything that lets us get more done, we’re all for.”

The free Coastbuster app is currently available on Android smartphones and tablets. The iPhone/iPad apps are awaiting approval from Apple in the coming weeks. Check out information on the project at oceannetworks.ca/coastbuster.

“It was designed to be used even by a kayaker, someone who only has one free hand,” Leslie says “You can become a citizen scientist.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sooke’s Whiffin Spit in a blaze of glory. (Pete Knight photo)
Whiffin Spit in a blaze of glory. Transition Sooke is calling on the municipality to slow its growth. The group came up with a growth scenario proposal for the Official Community Plan (OCP) which looks different to than the survey scenarios that emerged from the district. (Pete Knight photo)
Transition Sooke calls for slower growth rate

Group submits alternate growth scenario for Official Community Plan review

The Farm Fresh website makes it easy to connect with local farmers. (Courtesy Farm Fresh)
Island Farm Fresh Guide lets residents explore local product

Guide appears in this week’s edition of Black Press Media newspapers from Duncan to Victoria

Colwood mayor Rob Martin celebrates the opening of Meadow Park Green playground in Royal Bay earlier this year.	This year’s taxes reflect an increase in maintenance costs for parks, trails, and sewers. (Photo contributed/Jennifer Callioux)
Colwood pitches $100 property tax hike

Parks, trails, and sewer maintenance on the rise

Grandmothers to Grandmothers is a campaign that connects Canadian grandmothers with grandmothers in Africa who are caring for children orphaned by AIDS. Here, they are in Kakuto, Uganda in 2018. (Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar photo)
Greater Victoria and African grandmothers celebrate solidarity with virtual concert

Grandmothers to Grandmothers supports women in Africa caring for children orphaned by AIDS

Naloxone is used to treat opioid overdoses. (Black Press Media files)
Island Health issues overdose advisory for Greater Victoria

The advisory directs bystanders to an overdose to call 911 and administer naloxone

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees on highway near Ladysmith

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island’s Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

RCMP on scene yesterday at the altercation at the trailer park. (Submitted photo)
Violent altercation at Port Hardy trailer park sends one to hospital

Police say man confronted another over airsoft shooting, then was attacked with a weapon

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Most Read