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Tsunami debris adds new element to 'Coastal Cleanup' day

The trash accumulating in the Pacific Ocean – scientists estimate there are 1.5 million tons of tsunami debris alone -- is arriving on the West Coast. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

Thousands of volunteers were taking to West Coast beaches on Saturday for the 27th annual "Coastal Cleanup", and this year they have new instructions: keep an eye out for any Japanese tsunami debris.

Ocean Conservancy

This flyer is being handed out Saturday along West Coast beaches.

"DO NOT touch or attempt to remove any potentially hazardous materials or large debris items," states a field guide prepared by Ocean Conservancy, which organizes the annual, and international, beach event. 

Instead, volunteers are urged to call 911 if it's an immediate danger, or the federal tsunami removal program by e-mailing information to disasterdebris@noaa.gov. 


The group also hopes to total up any tsunami debris found, marking those "in the 'Items of Local Concern' section — so we can compare data collected this year to historical numbers," Katie Cline, a spokeswoman for Ocean Conservancy, told NBC News. "Will we see a difference in the type of debris found? This is a question we hope to determine using the data."

Already this year, several large items from Japan's 2011 tsunami have landed on West Coast beaches — among them a boat found on Canada's Spring Island, northwest of Vancouver Island, in August; a 66-foot-long floating dock that washed onto an Oregon beach in June; and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle found on Canada's Graham Island in April. 

Japan estimates 5 million tons of debris was swept out to sea by the tsunami, and about 1.5 million tons of that is likely still in the Pacific Ocean.

Even without tsunami debris, cleanup volunteers are likely to be busy on Saturday.

Last year, nearly 600,000 people picked up more than 9 million pounds of trash during the cleanup held on 20,000 miles of beaches around the world, Ocean Conservancy said.

"We need more volunteers than ever," David Pittenger, who runs the group's trash program, said in a statement announcing this year's effort. "Last year, volunteers found enough food packaging to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years."

Other items disposed of last year included 267,000 articles of clothing and more than 24,000 light bulbs, the conservation group noted.

One community that already knows what it will be cleaning up Saturday is Encinitas, Calif., where decades-old vehicle parts and other junk were recently found in the water of a protected lagoon, NBCSanDiego.com reported.

View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.

To see where cleanups are being held Saturday around the world, check out the interactive map created by Ocean Conservancy at signuptocleanup.org

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