Tsunami debris reminds us of life’s vulnerability | Opinion

When a local reader sent us images of what appeared to be a survey stake with Japanese writing, it looked like possible debris from the March 11, 2011 tsunami in Japan. We searched the Internet to find what other fragments have been coming toward the Pacific Northwest coast, and what we found was troubling.

The most recent item was an abandoned 150-foot fishing ship floating off the coast of British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands in March. This huge rusted vessel emerged from the ocean like a ghost, enduring a disaster that more than 15,000 people did not survive. The U.S. Coast Guard later sunk the ship, sending it down to its final resting place on the ocean’s floor.

It’s been more than a year since the disaster hit Japan, but experts say remnants of the tsunami will continue drifting onto the shores of the Pacific Northwest for decades to come.

What does it mean that our reminder of how vulnerable life is comes in the form of trash, rusty boats, fishing nets, chunks of wood and plastic? Is this what humans have left behind to tell their stories?

If a tsunami hit Orcas Island, what pieces of our lives would be found floating in the ocean, washing ashore in communities halfway around the globe?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urges people to be careful when picking up debris or anything else on the shorelines. Watch sharp objects that could cut your hands; avoid picking up sealed containers of chemicals – they may crack or break; report any full drum on the beach and avoid handling it.

If you find a remnant from the tsunami, take a moment to think about where it came from and who held it in their hands. Our lives can change in a heartbeat, and sometimes it’s the strangest things that remind us of life’s fragility.

Report possible tsunami debris to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.