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Saturday
Jun302012

Exotic Species Invade U.S. Waters in Aftermath of Japan Earthquake, Tsunami

Here’s an invasive species nightmare scenario for you:

In the wake of a huge storm, a massive dock washes up on the shore of another country, bringing with it as estimated 100 tons of exotic species.

What would be the consequences?

We are about to find out.

A 66-foot dock ripped from its moorings during the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 has washed upon Oregon shores. Oregon State University (OSU) scientists estimate that it carries about 13 pounds of organisms per square foot.

“This float is an island unlike any transoceanic debris we have ever seen,” said John Chapman, OSU marine invasive species specialist. “Drifting boats lack such dense fouling communities, and few of these species are already on this coast. Nearly all of the species we’ve looked at were established on the float before the tsunami. Few came after it was at sea.”

Hitchhikers that now could become established on the U.S. Pacific Coast include urchins, starfish, anemones, amphipods (flealike crustaceans), worms, mussels, limpets, snails, algae, four to six species of barnacles, and filter feeders called solitary tunicates.

And this from Live Science:

Estimates from the Japanese government and NASA suggest the monstrous tsunami swept up 5 million tons of debris, with about 70 percent sinking to the seafloor; the rest (1.5 million tons), like this huge dock, has been floating across the ocean. And although tsunami debris has likely been washing up on the west coast for months, the researchers were shocked to see such a rich raft of life make it all the way across the open Pacific, where food is scarce, to Newport, Ore. 

"It is as if the float drifted over here by hugging the coasts, but that is of course impossible," Chapman said. "Life on the open ocean, while drifting, may be gentler for these organisms than we initially suspected. Invertebrates can survive for months without food and the most abundant algae species may not have had the normal compliment of herbivores. Still, it is surprising."

OPB News adds this:

Experts at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have fifty-some species stored in a subzero freezer. OSU marine ecologist Jessica Miller said they have identified some species and shipped others to scientists around the country and in Canada.

“Sea squirts or tunicates, a group called ascidians, we sent some samples out to an expert, and then Gayle Hansen, here at OSU who works with a Japanese colleague, she’s been sorting her way through the algal species,” she said.

Miller thinks an invasive brown alga might try to settle in the Pacific Northwest.

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