Photo/IllutrationEvent participants pick up garbage washed ashore on Tajirihama beach, in which Sarah Auffret started the clean-up activities on her own, to honor her living will in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture, on June 16. (Tsukasa Fuke)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARUTO, Tokushima Prefecture--When Sarah Auffret started teaching English here in 2007, she felt pain in seeing garbage washed up on Tajirihama beach.

So, the young Frenchwoman started cleaning the beach on her own.

About 130 people participated in a cleanup of Tajirihama beach on June 16 to commemorate Auffret, on what would have been the environmental activist’s 35th birthday.

Auffret died in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the African country, on March 10, killing all 157 people aboard.

On June 16, similar cleanup events were held at countless locations around the world including Europe, the United States, Latin America and other Asian countries where participants honored Auffret's living will, through emulating what she did, picking up waste.

Also within the prefecture, a similar event was held in the Yoshinogawa river near the Shikoku University campus in Tokushima, where foreign students of the university cleaned the riverbed.

Auffret, with a sense of crisis over the contamination of seawater with microplastics, was flying to attend the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya. She was to present the activities of the Clean Seas Project of Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators as the organization’s environmental agent.

Auffret assumed her post as an assistant language teacher at Naruto High School in 2007.

Her clean-up efforts inspired her colleagues, students and local community, and more than 100 local residents joined her activity in 2010, which was her final year as a teacher in the city.

Around the time, Auffret asked Yoshiko Shimada, 58, for advice.

“Her feelings that, ‘I want to do something for someone,’ and ‘I want to know more about the world,' were conveyed to students,” Shimada said.

About 130 people who had known Auffret participated in the mourning event on June 16 where they offered a prayer for her, then picked up plastic bottles, cans and other plastic waste while sorting them out. They called the day, “Cleanup for Sarah in Naruto.”

“It was stunning to see her trying to gather an enormous amount of garbage by herself at that time,” said Atsumi Uesugi, 25, a former student of Auffret, who lives in Takamatsu. “It is deeply touching that events are being held around the world to respect Sarah's dying wishes."

Morio Miyamoto, 73, chairman of the association of local self-government promotion, said, “About 10 years ago, Sarah learned about the problem of plastic pollution in oceans, which has recently surfaced as a major concern and is now being intensively addressed.”

After leaving Naruto in 2010 Auffret became involved in sightseeing tourism that featured environmental conservation perspectives of the Arctic and Antarctic poles at companies and organizations in Britain, Norway and Argentina.

Since leaving Japan, Auffret would occasionally return to the country to visit Tajirihama beach, which was her starting point in environmental activism, and cleaned up the site along with her friends.