Tsunami species cross Pacific

Many of us will remember the Japanese tsunami of March 2011, triggered by a massive earthquake, registering at a 9.0 magnitude of the Richter scale, and causing more than £200 billion worth of damage.

The wave towered 125 feet over the Japanese coast, along with a vast amount of debris.

From 2012 to 2017 this debris has been found washing up on the coasts of North America and the HawaiianIslands.

Along with the rubbish  being washed up, scientists have found nearly 300 living species attached to the debris having used the items as rafts to cross the Pacific.

Nearly two thirds of these organisms had never been seen off the US coast and included species from various groups including mussels, worms, crustaceans and jellyfish relatives called hydroids.

The researchers predict that the slow movement of the debris, compared to fast movement of commercial vehicles, may be the reason these organisms have survived the journey.

This sluggish pace may also have contributed to the organisms being able to reproduce and allowed them to adjust to the new environment.

The debris floating around, potentially polluting our oceans, allowed these organisms to stay alive for so long.

The slow degradation of hard plastic and fibreglass materials meant that they were sturdy enough to last for over six years at sea, that enabled them to transport the new species across the Pacific.

Professor of Fisheries at Oregon State University, John Chapman, has stated this as ‘‘the biggest, unplanned, natural experiment in marine biology,’’ and though none of the species have yet colonised the West Coast, they will be closely observed.

Invasive species can be a massive detriment to new environments and so, if nothing else, this has taught us that our plastic waste in the ocean could be transporting a lot more than pollutants.


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August 2022
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