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Shoreline litter is a huge, global, and overwhelming problem. Working towards solving this issue involves having serious discussions and collaborating with people from around the world in order to come up with large scale solutions.

Two years ago I was invited to Japan by JEAN for a week-long event about marine debris left behind after the 2011 tsunami. In 2016, I was excited to be invited back by the same group, this time to participate in their 14th annual Marine Debris Summit.

Together with representatives from China, Korea, Taiwan, France, the U.S., Canada, and Japan, we toured local beaches, participated in a beach cleanup, and presented our work at a conference with more than 100 attendees.

A photo of the beach in Japan before our cleanup.
Photo of the same beach after our cleanup — what a difference an hour makes.

Five amazing things that inspired me in Japan:

  1. Volunteers make the world go ’round. Speakers from China, Korea, Taiwan, France, and Japan shared stories about the impact of their volunteers on their shorelines. I was so excited to share the amazing work of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s 75,000+ volunteers with a global audience.
  2. Gulf of Alaska Keeper has been working tirelessly to keep Alaskan shorelines clean. Check out their inspiring videos here.
  3. Groups like JEAN have a great ability to bring together the right stakeholders to talk about marine litter. We were joined by representatives from local, regional, and national government departments. Getting all these people together to focus on marine debris for two days is no small feat.
  4. Plastic Free Hawaii has fun resources to help you reduce your plastic use.
  5. Surfrider Europe is pursuing a plastic bag ban in the European Union. But they won’t stop there, after plastic bags they have ambitious plans to move to targeting other single use plastic items.
Marine debris art created by local school students after the cleanup in Japan.
Marine debris art created by local school students after the cleanup in Japan.

There were many other great initiatives discussed. Marcus Eriksen from 5 Gyres talked about sampling microplastics in the Arctic with the Vancouver Aquarium this summer, we also learned about marine debris art projects from beaches in Taiwan and numerous local efforts in Japan to keep shorelines healthy and clean.

The overall message? Our individual efforts add up to significant positive changes. So choose to carry a reusable water bottle, spork and shopping bag when you head out and about. Say no to unnecessary packaging. Recycle anything you can’t avoid using. Feel good about the changes you are making. And of course, start a cleanup any time of year at

Markus from 5 Gyres, Chris from Gulf of Alaska Keeper, and Kate from the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, helping cleanup the beach in Japan.

Aquablog by Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

Posted December 10, 2016 by Vancouver Aquarium

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