Tag Archives: radiation

Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture tsunami cleanup

As our departure date has been put back to 2nd of June some of the expedition team decided to head north towards Fukushima and give some time volunteering at tsunami cleanup.

Furnished with a handy volunteer guide in Japanese, Marcus our expedition leader from 5 Gyres, secured our insurance cards, some safety gear and booked our bus tickets.

Akira from the Japanese broadcaster NHK was invaluable with information and advice, he even came to the rescue when yours truly left his audio recorder on a railway platform and managed to return it before our bus left Yokohoma!

The area most needing assistance is near Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, which until April has been part of the exclusion zone around the failed nuclear reactor.

This area is surreal, like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, devoid of people. Smashed infrastructure, houses and vehicles mark the landscape, reminders of the power of the sea. Mr Suzuki, who helped look after us during the cleanup said the cars with number plates still attached indicated their owners were still unaccounted for.

It is a snapshot of what the Japanese coastline looked like shortly after the tsunami hit, with nature slowly taking over.  Now this area has been opened again the survivors who chose to return  are now slowly rebuilding their homes and cleaning up their properties.

Our arrival at the volunteer center initially caused some confusion amongst the administration who were not set up to cater for international volunteers. Fortunately they were impressed to see we already had our insurance cards and were able to find some English speakers among the Japanese volunteers to help out.We were assigned to clear a drainage ditch around Kazuko Sakaida’s house which just escaped being destroyed by the Tsunami. Kazuko saw the wave approaching, flooding her fields and almost reaching her door.  She has been unable to return here until recently, being kept away due to high radiation levels.
Kazuko bought us snacks and drinks in appreciation of our efforts.

Marcus from 5 Gyres is also an accomplished sculptor, with work in the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Kazuko agreed to let him cast her hand as part of an ongoing project on plastic pollution. With bemusement she knelt on her hardwood floor waiting for the cast to set. Kazuko was fascinated with the detail in the resulting positive of her hand.

The Japanese people possess an incredible resilience, this is apparent in the survivors and volunteers still working on rebuilding after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. It was an honour for us to be accepted by these people and to feel their warmth and appreciation . Working side by side with Mr Suzuki and the other Japanese volunteers was a great experience, one I will carry for a long time to come.

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From Sydney to Tokyo

“Your storage space will be in a box next to your bunk, dimensions – 50cm x 40cm x 26cm”

Really? Wow. Trying to minimize my pack list for the month at sea has been a challange. If I wasn’t committed to documenting the voyage I think I could meet the space limitation, though the x220, cameras an audiod recording gear take up more space than my personal supplies!

Tokyo is great, very interesting from a plastic pollution perspective. Vending machines are everywhere! They even dispense beer. What surprised me is every vending machine has it’s own recycling bin. Is this a legal requirement?

This  has an obvious impact on reducing the beverage container pollution in urban areas, though we know Japan has a beverage container pollution problem on the coast.. So where is the local contribution  coming from? I have some ideas on that.. will follow up after some more detective work.

Joining the 5 Gyres/Algalita Marine Research Foundation 2012 Japanese Tsunami Debris Expedition has meant acquiring some new gear, my 4 year old laptop just couldn’t cope anymore. Goodbye trusty friend. The learning curve in new software and gear is a small challenge, have to get up to speed before we sail. Thanks to Lenovo and Adobe for supporting Two Hands Project with gear and imaging software.

While in Tokyo we are staying in “Fight House” a previously abandoned building which housed survivors after the 2011 tsunami, it is now used to house kids visiting Tokyo from the country for sporting events.

Meeting the team has been a blast, we have a diverse crew from as far afield as Switzerland and Brazil! I’ll introduce them in upcoming entries.

Our Japanese hosts have been wonderful, and hosted a party for the expedition team, great food and an abundance of beer.

One of the highlights so far was attending the Symposium on plastic pollution at Tokyo university. Great presentations all round, the science being conducted in Japan on this issue is impressive, and somewhat surprising given the heavy use of plastic packaging here!

Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Marine Research Foundation joined us in Tokyo to present at the symposium. It was great to meet the man who is credited to alerting the world on the existence massive plastic pollution in  the North Pacific Gyre.

Gotta run, Fukushima Prefecture is next.

Paul

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