Photo/IllutrationWorkers collect plastic garbage from Typhoon No. 19 at a beach in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Oct. 16. (Takashi Sugimoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Mountains of waste and debris swept into the sea by Typhoon No. 19 are now washing up on the Pacific coast and threatening the livelihoods of those in the fisheries and other marine-related industries.

Cleanup efforts are under way, but local officials in various prefectures say the task is so enormous that they will need help from the central government.

At a beach in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, a huge amount of driftwood and garbage washed ashore, including plastic bags, fishing lines, cellphone cases, bottles and golf balls.

On the request of the Kanagawa Coastal Environmental Foundation, workers have been trying to clean up the area. They are sorting out plastic garbage by hand and removing logs and other large items with heavy machinery.

The foundation estimated that Typhoon No. 15 in September caused about 180 tons of garbage to reach beaches in the prefecture.

“The volume of garbage this time is way larger than that of Typhoon No. 15,” said Atsuo Konno, 63, who was put in charge of the cleanup work by the foundation. “I can’t even estimate when we will finish the work.”

Yasuo Nihei, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science who specializes in environmental hydraulics, said a considerable amount of garbage, including plastic trash, is carried from rivers during heavy rainfalls.

But plastics are not the only thing fouling up the shorelines.

LEAKED OIL WASHING ASHORE

In Tokyo Bay, a large volume of trash has drifted to coastal areas stretching from Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture to Futtsu, Chiba Prefecture.

The waste at those two cities contained some of the 61 tons of heavy oil that leaked from a cargo ship that sank off Kawasaki during the storm on Oct. 12, according to the Japan Coast Guard’s 3rd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters.

At Futtsu Cape, drifting garbage was seen over a 2-kilometer section of the shore on Oct. 17. The waste included a “no golfing” sign by a Tamagawa river management office in Kawasaki and another sign likely from Hachioji in western Tokyo that banned illegal dumping.

The garbage covered a clam-digging site, surrounded a fishing port and extended well into the ocean.

NORI CULTIVATION IN DANGER

The floating debris has raised alarms about the normally thriving nori cultivation business in Futtsu.

According to Hideo Hirano, 71, vice president of a fishery cooperative in Futtsu, more than 100 members and others are now removing debris along the shore. However, they will need larger ships to remove the garbage at nori cultivation areas, and the process will require a considerable amount of time.

Fishing vessels remain docked over concerns that the garbage will entangle the propellers.

“I have never seen such a bewildering volume of garbage on the sea,” Hirano said.

The drifting trash has even reached Toshijima island in Toba, Mie Prefecture, in central Japan.

SUBSIDIES NEEDED FOR CLEANUP

According to the land ministry and fisheries ministry, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures intend to apply for subsidies to deal with the garbage from Typhoon No. 19.

Each municipality usually takes care of garbage on their beaches. But they have to first remove the salt content from the waste to prevent damage to the incinerators. If the garbage is not separated out, it is regarded as industrial waste and costs more for disposal.

The torrential rains that hit western Japan in July 2018 carried such a large amount of trash into the ocean that the fisheries industries from the Chubu to Kyushu regions were affected.

In July 2017, when heavy rain struck northern parts of Kyushu, a large volume of driftwood, sand and earth flowed into the Ariake Sea, resulting in breakdowns of fishing vessels and the deaths of a countless number of clams.

In both fiscal 2017 and 2018, at least 40,000 cubic meters of drifting garbage was collected from areas mainly in flood-hit regions.

(This article was written by Takashi Sugimoto and Yuta Ogi.)