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Japan beyond 3.11 Stories of Recovery

GREAT EAST JAPAN EARTHQUATE PROJECT NHK WORLD
Recovering Ocean: The Sanriku Coast

This page is adapted from the original transcript of NHK’s TOMORROW, broadcast on August 18, 2014

Tomorrow Logo
Divers

Divers jump into the ocean.

Debris

They are collecting the debris of life washed away by the 2011 tsunami.

Fishing gear

This must be fishing gear...

Collecting piece by piece

During the three years since the disaster, volunteer divers have been collecting the debris piece by piece.

A car

Sometimes they find a car. The items in the sea are all reminders of that fateful day.

Local fisherman help out

This work can only be done with the collaboration of local fishermen. You have to be careful about the tide and watch out for rocks when pulling out the debris.

Lots of debris

The amount of debris is far beyond what you could imagine.

Koichi Watari: Fisherman

“The divers have cleaned out the debris here many times. The problem is that when the sea gets rough, more stuff that has been buried under the sand appears. So the divers have to go down again and again.”
(Koichi Watari: Fisherman)

Kuma

“When you go underwater, you may find part of a house, a boat, plastic items or oil containers. None of those things should be there. I’m a diver, so I know what it should look like underwater.”
(Hiroshi Sato aka ‘Kuma’: Diver)

Under water

The work is mainly done by highly qualified master divers.

Beach

After all the debris has been removed, some of the beaches have come back to life.

Eelgrass

The growth of eelgrass, which is home to many kinds of marine creatures, has revived. The re-energized water has started to nurture life again.

Researcher

“At first, I couldn’t believe how much the earthquake had affected the ocean, but I’ve been amazed by its recovery.”
(Takashi Asahida: Professor, Kitasato University)

Diver

The tsunami caused tremendous damage. However, the ocean is slowly recovering. Today we will report on that process from the Sanriku coast.

Recovering Ocean: The Sanriku Coast
Sanriku Coast

The coast of Sanriku is characterized by steep hillsides dripping straight into the sea.

Sanriku Coast

The Sanriku coastline is known as one of the world’s major fishing grounds, and the bounties of the ocean have long supported the lives of many people here.

Sanriku-cho

But the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake changed everything.

Morley Robertson

“On March 11, 2011, a massive tsunami struck the coastline of Sanriku. This town was completely flattened. Three years later, it’s still a collection of vacant lots. You can see beyond the lots into the ocean, which is relatively calm right now. But underneath the water, people’s lives in fragments remain as marine debris, almost like a reminder of that fateful day.”
(Morley Robertson: Reporter)

Ofunato

The city of Ofunato on the Sanriku coast was hit by a tsunami over 20 meters high. 400 people lost their lives.

Damage in Ofunato

Most of the town was swept away by the tsunami.

Reconstruction

Since then, reconstruction work has been going on in earnest, and large pieces of debris have been pulled out of the water by dredgers.

Underwater debris retrieval

But a great deal of underwater debris remains. Morley meets Hiroshi, a volunteer diver who has been removing it.

Morley meets Kuma

“Hi, I’ll be going out with you today.”
(Morley)

“How do you do? I’m Kuma.”
(Hiroshi Sato aka ‘Kuma’: Diver)

“I’m Morley.”
(Morley)

“Please come aboard.”
(Kuma)

“Thank you.”
(Morley)

Morley looks out into the ocean

“The sea’s calm today.”
(Kuma)

“Oh, good!”
(Morley)

Kuma

Hiroshi Sato is nicknamed “Kuma” or “Bear” for his large frame.

Debris

Kuma started to remove debris one month after the disaster.

Debris

At the time, the sea was filled with a massive amount of debris.

Diver

It resembled a junkyard. It was an unbearable sight for a local diver like Kuma.

He called on other divers to help, and they started removing debris from the sea voluntarily.

Divers gather in Ofunato

Since then, over 3,000 divers from all over Japan have come to help.

Kuma

“Doesn’t anybody give up? Does everybody stay willing?”
(Morley)

“Well, you don’t have to force yourself to work hard.”
(Kuma)

“Is this about will power?”
(Morley)

“I try to think of it as fun, and not to think of it something hard, or something I have to do. There are times when things get a bit hard, but the rewarding thing is to observe the sea’s recovery.”
(Kuma)

Morley in the bay

With the help of the fishermen, Kuma goes out diving almost every day. But in the beginning, things were different.

Diver

The fishermen had adverse feelings about divers.

Koichi Watari

“We associated divers with poaching, so in fact we didn’t get on well with them to start with.”
(Koichi Watari: Fisherman)

Coastline

The fishermen and divers were not getting along. But the ocean brought them together.

Kuma

“At first, the fishermen were skeptical about what we could do. But gradually they realized that we could help them, and they started collaborating with us.”
(Kuma)

Debris

The sea was choked with debris.

Fishing boat

The ocean is the fishermen’s workplace. But they were losing it. So they started working hand in hand with Kuma.

Koichi Watari

Kuma had another concern. He consulted Koichi Watari, a fisherman he had been working with. Kuma asked him about the salmon returning from the ocean to spawn in the local rivers.

Koichi Watari

“Kuma and I discussed whether the salmon would come back. But the sea was not in a good state. So we decided that anyway we had to focus on returning it to the condition it was in before.”
(Koichi Watari)

Salmon

Every autumn, salmon return to the rivers from the sea. They are one of the rich natural bounties of the Sanriku area.

Kuma

“In Sanriku, the rivers and the sea and living things are closely interconnected. The salmon and the sweetfish move back and forth between the two.”
(Kuma)

Debris-ridden ocean

“When I came here right after the disaster, it didn’t look like a river. It was full of fishing boats and houses… All kinds of things were floating in it. It didn’t look like a river.”
(Kuma)

Divers

Kuma and the other divers also started clearing debris from the river.

River

Kuma believed that if the salmon could move freely back and forth from river to sea, it would lead to the revival of the Sanriku ocean.

Morley interview Kuma

“With the river cleared up like this, did the salmon come back?”
(Morley)

“Yes, they did.”
(Kuma)

“That’s wonderful!”
(Morley)

Salmon

“Yes.”
(Kuma)


The cleaning efforts of Kuma and the other divers soon bore fruit. The following autumn, salmon started appearing in the river again.

Kuma and salmon

Kuma was very excited to see them and took many photographs.

Salmon eggs

The fact that the salmon had returned meant that life could thrive in the river.

“What happens after the salmon hatch?”
(Morley)

“They’re born here, and then they swim out to the sea. They go to Alaska, and they’ll come back here in maybe four or five years.”
(Kuma)

“So this river’s connected to Alaska!”
(Morley)

“Absolutely!”
(Kuma)

“So they can only survive if this river’s clean.”
(Morley)

“That’s right. We love the salmon. So we want them to come back.”
(Kuma)

Mountain stream

The spring water from the forest carries pebbles and minerals down into the rivers. The rivers run through the town and into the sea.

Okirai

The tsunami brought a big change to the small beach beside the area cleaned up by Kuma and the other divers.

Before the disaster
Ocean damage

The earthquake caused the ground to subside and the tsunami destroyed the breakwater. As a result, the sea engulfed the beach. And a new sandy beach emerged in the bay.

Beach area

After the breakwater had gone, sand from the river started heaping up here, and enlarged the beach area.

Beach

The School of Marine Biosciences at Kitasato University has been carrying out research on marine life at the beach.

Research

They collect fish from the shallows using a net.

No fish

At first glance, you can not see any fish.

Closer look

But when you take a closer look, you can see there are lots of little fish caught in the net.

Baby fish

The research conducted every month checks the number and species of the fish.

Juvenile nibblers

“These small fish were born this spring. They are juvenile nibblers.”
(Takashi Asahida: Professor, Kitasato University)

Tidepool gunnel

“This is a tidepool gunnel. There are various species of baby fish here.”
(Professor Takashi Asahida)

“Why are there so many different kinds of fish?”
(Morley)

Takashi Asahida

“Well, you don’t realize that there are fish around when you go swimming at the beach. But in fact there are when you take a closer look.”

Fish kindergarten

“We call this beach a “fish kindergarten”; it’s where fish grow up. They don’t have many predators here. And here there are also many little shrimp and other creatures they can eat. So a beach like this is an important place where fish can mature.”
(Professor Takashi Asahida)

Revised breakwater construction plan

The local residents wanted to conserve the newly emerged sand beach and requested the town to revise the plan for construction of a new breakwater.

The original plan was to reclaim the beach and build a breakwater there. However, they revised the plan and decided to build it around the beach instead, so that it could remain intact.

Breakwater before
Breakwater after
Panorama of the fish kindergarten

Takashi Ashida

“I guess you have to see the ocean from and an environmental viewpoint, and not just from our side.”
(Morley)

“Well, I think fishermen who have always lived with the sea have that sense of balance. That resulted in the decision to build the new breakwater in a different location. Most of us tend to think only from our perspective of protecting ourselves from future tsunami. But the fishermen clearly understand the importance of preserving the marine environment, especially this kind of shallow water.”
(Professor Takashi Asahida)

Ocean

The people of Sanriku have always lived in harmony with the ocean.

Scallops

Brown seaweed and scallop farming have also been restarted. The fishermen say that the ocean is once again in a good condition.

Fisherman

“In fact, I think the sea has become even richer than before the disaster. Yes, the sea creatures seem to grow better now.”
(Fisherman)

Coastline

The earthquake caused the Sanriku coastline to subside by about one meter. According to the research carried out by Kitasato University, the subsidence has resulted in enlarging the rich nurturing ground for fish.

Namiita Beach

Namiita is a shoaling beach.

Before the disaster, this ocean area was known as a growing ground for eelgrass.

Eelgrass

Immediately after the disaster, the eelgrass had been completely wiped out. But now, three years on, it has returned, and the area of growth has doubled in size.

The subsidence of the sea bottom deepened the water and expanded the area in which the eelgrass can grow.

Sunrise sculpin

The eelgrass environment is rich in nutrition, and it therefore serves as an excellent breeding area for various kinds of marine creatures.

More than 10 species of fish thrive here.

Eelgrass

Eelgrass belongs to the rice family. In mid-summer, it grows to a height of about 2 meters, and blooms and seeds under the strong sunlight.

Eelgrass flowers

The sea bottom changes caused by the tsunami allowed the eelgrass to spread its seeds over a wider area.

Rock trout

A rock trout peeks out from the forest of eelgrass.

Takashi Ashida

“During these past three years, many species of fish have returned here, and there are now almost as many as there were before the disaster. I really wondered what would happen in the aftermath of that huge tsunami. But nature’s recovery power is tremendous. Regardless of how the living environment changes, all creatures struggle to survive.”
(Professor Takashi Asahida)

Marbled flounder

How can marine life survive?
The sea creatures have also been struggling to survive the changes to their habitat after the disaster.

Kuma

Today, Kuma has come to Ogatsu Bay.

Fisherman

He has been asked by a fisherman to remove some debris which has been interfering with the scallop farming.

Rope

“This is the rope!”
(Fisherman)


This rope seems to be in the way.

Fisherman

“Can you take a look and see if there are any other things underwater?”
(Fisherman)

“Sure.”
(Kuma)

Kuma's first dive here

This is the first time for Kuma to dive in this bay, and he is excited.

Kuma dives in

He goes deeper, following the rope.

Sea bed

At a depth of 27 meters, Kuma finally reaches the sea bed. Attached to the end of the rope he finds the remains of an aquafarming shelf swept away by the tsunami.

Removing the rope

In the dark muddy water, Kuma manages to cut the rope and remove it.

Kuma comes back up

“There’s still so much debris underwater. It seems to me like you are trying to dig up a mountain with a spoon!”
(Morley)

“Yes, but for over three years, we’ve removed so much. It might just mean bringing out one rope. But if you keep doing it for a long time, the sea eventually gets really clean. I believe in people power!”
(Kuma)

Divers retrieve important items from the sea bed

Going down into the ocean thousands of times, the divers have brought out the remains of people’s lives one item at a time. So far, they have collected several hundred tons of debris. They have been doing this in order to clean the seawater and recover the beautiful ocean they used to have here.

Many volunteers

Their wish has spread to many people outside Sanriku, and volunteers have come from all over Japan to help.

Volunteer

“We all get very involved in clearing up the underwater debris and helping to revive the fish-farming as volunteers. Once people get involved, they keep wondering what is happening to the sea, and they come back and help us again. Once you get really involved in this, it makes you want to come back.”
(Kuma)

Koichi Watari

Fisherman Koichi Watari has been working with Kuma. This summer, he was able to harvest cultivated sea squirts for the first time since the disaster.

Koichi Watari

“We lost all our sea squirts in the tsunami just two months before the harvest.”
(Koichi Watari: Fisherman)

Sea squirts

Kuma has been helping to collect eggs from natural sea squirts to help the fisherman.

Sea squirts

Sea squirts are sometimes called “the pineapples of the ocean” for their peculiar shape.

Morley tries eating one for the first time.

Morley tries a sea squirt

“Wow, it’s alive! It’s moving!”
(Morley)

“They’re delicious.”
(Koichi Watari)

“It looks a bit squashy!

Morley tries a sea squirt

I’m supposed to take a big bite, right?
OK. I swallowed it. Wait, it tastes bitter and has a strong flavor of the sea.”
(Morley)

“There’s a sweet aftertaste.”
(Koichi Watari)

“Yes, it’s starting to taste sweet now.”
(Morley)

Sea squirts

“Right.”
(Koichi Watari)

“There’s sweetness somewhere in there.”
(Morley)

“It goes really well with beer!”
(Koichi Watari)

“Yes, beer or sake, please!”
(Morley)

Morley summarises

“Sanriku coast is known to be one of the world’s largest fishing grounds. After the tsunami, local fishermen and scuba divers worked in hand in hand to remove underwater debris. Their goal is to bring back the abundant water of Sanriku. Three years on, their efforts are finally bearing fruits. Today, once again, Kuma-san and his friends go underwater with the help from local fishermen. They continue to salvage the remains of this town one piece at a time.”
(Morley)

Kuma

Kuma has heard that Watari is once again farming his sea squirts, so he decides to check them out underwater.

Kuma pulls a sea squirt rope

“Please pull it.”
(Koichi Watari)

Sea squirt harvesting

“It feels like 220 kilograms! Wow, they’re big! When did you lay them?”
(Kuma)

“One year after the disaster. We collected the eggs in 2011 and laid them down in October 2012.”
(Koichi Watari)

Kuma dives in

Kuma and Watari have been working together to clear the sea of debris for the past three years. They made a promise to each other to revive the beautiful Sanriku ocean.

Koichi Watari

“So many volunteers have come to help us, including Kuma. There have been hundreds of them... thousands! It’s now the fourth year since the disaster, but we’re still working together.”
(Koichi Watari)

The sea squirts have really grown

Aquafarming shelves for sea squirts are spread in the ocean 30 meters deep.

The sea squirts have really grown!

Kuma and Watari look pleased

“They’ve really grown well!”
(Kuma)

“Yes.”
(Koichi Watari)

“Wow, they’ve grown so much! All the way to the bottom. Great!”
(Kuma)

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