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

James Taylor, a Saanich resident and member of the Curve Lake First Nation, walked all over Greater Victoria on May 5 in honour of Red Dress Day and the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Devon Bidal/News staff)
Indigenous man walks Greater Victoria to honour missing and murdered women and girls

James Taylor, of the Curve Lake First Nation, marks Red Dress Day with healing walk, songs

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man arrested for allegedly spitting, yelling anti-Asian racial slurs at a mother and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

Victoria police is asking for the public’s assistance in identifying this suspect after they allegedly robbed a Douglas Street bank on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Police seek identity of suspect who alllegedly robbed Victoria bank

Officers were called to a bank in the 1000-block of Douglas Street just after 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday

Victoria police said Wednesday that they continue to look for Belinda Ann Cameron, who was last seen on May 5, 2005. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police still looking for Belinda Cameron who was last seen 16 years ago

Cameron was reported missing on June 4, 2005, and her case is deemed suspicious

Colwood-based writer Esi Edugyan will speak about the deep research she did before writing <em>Washington Black</em>, her third novel. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood author Esi Edugyan giving talk May 6 about her research and writing process

Event is part of Royal Road’s Changemaker series celebrating its 25th anniversary

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
Clash between loggers, activists halts forestry operations over Fairy Creek

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

The courthouse in Nanaimo, B.C. (News Bulletin file)
Island man sentenced in Nanaimo after causing a dog unnecessary pain and suffering

Kiefer Tyson Giroux, 26, of Nanoose Bay, given six-month sentence

Following a one-year pause due to the pandemic, the Snowbirds were back in the skies over the Comox Valley Wednesday (May 5) morning. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Video: Snowbirds hold first training session in Comox Valley in more than 2 years

The team will conduct their training from May 4 to 26 in the area

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Most Read