Coming across a wayward soccer ball on a remote beach is a humbling experience when you realize it might have last been kicked just before the horrific March 2011 tsunami hit the coast of Japan.
Even more startling is coming across part of a Japanese house as you paddle down the coast of Washington.
A team of kayakers that documented debris along Washington’s remote beaches last summer has recently completed a film about the expedition that will be featured this month at a prestigious San Francisco Sea Kayak symposium and debut in several West Coast locations.
Known as the Ikkatsu Project, the team formed last year to survey the roadless coast for debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. The journey started in Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, then traveled south and covered the same area where a large dock recently washed ashore in what is believed to be the next wave of tsunami debris to hit the area.
Although the kayakers found several major pieces of tsunami debris, including a well-publicized frame of part of a house, they also found a stunning amount of domestic debris, too.
“It’s an amazing place to kayak and a world-class kayak spot, for sure,” said Ken Campbell of Tacoma, who came up with the idea to combine his experience kayaking on the coast with the effort to log the impact of tsunami debris.
“We were amazed at what we found, and it started at the first beach we landed on,” Campbell said in a phone interview last week. The team hopes to show the documentary in Aberdeen and other locations on the Washington coast once the film has an opening at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in San Francisco on Jan. 26.
“We knew there was a certain amount of debris that was going to be there anyway, but when we first started out we were more focused on tsunami debris,” he said. “As the trip went on, we came to the opinion that the total amount of debris that was out there was really what the story was.”
They were able to secure some backing from the Surfrider Foundation and followed protocols established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in logging what they found along the way.
Campbell said he came to realize that individual citizen action was about the only effort being made to deal with the problem at the time. Most of the debris they found everywhere was plastics, from bottles to fishing-related items, Styrofoam and other packing materials.
“Really, the story is how much is out there. There is a lot,” he said. “And the plastics never go away. They get smaller, or break up into smaller pieces, but they are never really gone.”
Campbell and team partner Steve Weileman are experienced professional guides with multiple trips and expeditions to remote coastal environments. Campbell has authored several books on Pacific Northwest kayaking and is a frequent contributor to print and online magazines on subjects relating to the outdoors and the environment. Weileman is a documentary filmmaker and photographer, with previous experience in Newfoundland and Alaska, as well as numerous locations throughout the Northwest.
This year, the team will be traveling to south-central Alaska to the volcanic island of Augustine, which sits at the mouth of Cook Inlet. Based on computer projections, tsunami debris is expected to have already begun arriving on the rarely-visited shoreline of the island, as well as on the beaches of the Kenai Peninsula, just seven miles away.
The Ikkatsu team intends to circle the island, conducting surveys of the beaches and once again turning over all of the collected data to NOAA and other scientific organizations.
Campbell is optimistic that with attention and effort, the tide of beach debris can be ebbed.
“I can be very pessimistic as a person, but I think what has been damaged can be repaired,” Campbell said. “It’s just a matter of will and it’s a matter of just knowing that it’s there. I see that as our main function.
“That’s what we are trying to do — just make people aware of what’s out there.”
The tsunami debris they found already has drawn international attention. They were able to trace the soccer ball back to a club in a Japanese town of about 16,000 people.
“Over 10 percent of the people were killed in the tsunami. That’s a pretty big part of your community to go in one moment,” Campbell said. “As far as we know, the soccer ball is all that’s left of that club. We’re in contact with one of the coaches and we hope to get that soccer ball returned.”
The part of the Japanese house was found near Cape Flattery.
“That was pretty sobering, just knowing we were standing in somebody’s house,” Campbell said.
The team already has been the subject of a Japanese news media crew, which followed them from LaPush south to Third Beach. Two other Japanese news groups also did features on the expedition.
The Ikkatsu Project was named for a Japanese term that means together, or united as one.
“You think of this huge ocean that is separating us, but it really doesn’t. It’s what brings us together,” Campbell said.
The documentary will show at the following locations: Jan. 29 at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma; Feb. 6 at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma; Feb. 13 at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma; Feb. 19 at the Mountaineers Hall in Seattle; and March 13 at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham. Check the team’s website for more details: http://ikkatsuproject.org/
To watch a preview trailer of the documentary online: http://vimeo.com/49922487