A large amount of the tsunami debris expected to wash up on B.C. shores will likely be discovered and cleaned up by volunteers, according to a research scientist with the federal fisheries department.

"There's going to be a coordinated effort on our coast led by the provincial government and probably by local communities, working in conjunction with the federal government," said Richard Thomson, a senior research scientist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.

"They've set up a task force, they're trying to prepare for the inundation of materials that come to shore, but a lot of it's going to be done by volunteers in coastal communities."

Thomson told Rick Cluff, host of CBC Radio One's The Early Edition, local surfers and shoreline clean-up groups will likely be on the front lines as debris continues to come to shore.

"I've already talked to people ... who surf on the coast of Vancouver Island," he said. "Those people and other volunteers are on a daily basis cleaning up the debris, so I'm assuming that they're going to be inundated with this stuff — but they're there and keen to help clean up."

'Not just a little patch'

Experts say several million tonnes of tsunami debris are drifting across the Pacific Ocean toward Canada's West Coast.

"The main core of the debris is located about a couple thousand kilometres north of Hawaii, but it's not just a little patch," Thomson said.

"It's stretched out about 6,000 kilometres in the east-west direction and about 2,000 kilometres in the north-south direction."

Small items, like bottles and buoys, have already reached B.C.'s shores, as has the rear section of a cube van containing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Thomson says what's washed ashore already are lighter items being carried along by wind and waves.

"The winds are going to carry typically 30 times stronger than the currents. The stuff that's skipping along the top of the water, that's arriving already," he said.

"It's pretty obvious from the Japanese squid vessel that came to shore that some of the material that's being carried by the wind has made it across the Pacific Ocean in really rapid time."

'There's no comparison'

He said debris is showing up much sooner than expected — and it's likely just the beginning.

"I think there's so much debris that's been put into the ocean .... The probability tells you that stuff is just going to surprise you and that's what's happening to us."

While some observers have compared the impact of the tsunami on the ocean to the Exxon Valdez oil disaster, Thomson says it's an inaccurate comparison.

"There's no comparison .... The advantage we have with the debris coming from the tsunami is it's hard. You can pick it up. You can actually bend over and pick it up. It's not going to soil the ecology, in a sense."

Officials are using computer models to track the debris, updating wind patterns and ocean currents on a daily basis, but Thomson says figuring out where the debris will end up is a guessing game. Some items will sink or break up along the way, making it incredibly difficult to predict an exact date and location for the arrival of debris on local shores.