Scientists Raise Concerns Over Tsunami Debris Carrying Invasive Species
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Two years after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, researchers in the US and Canada are concerned about the possible damage that could be caused by invasive species that have found their way to North America on debris resulting from the 2011 disaster.
According to UPI, experts in the northwest US and Canada are having difficulty determining whether or not marine life washing ashore on the debris will be a threat to the environment and/or living things native to the region – or for how long they could pose a threat.
“Ecologists have a terrible track record of predicting what introduced species will survive and where. But once things are here, they are a threat,” John Chapman, an invasive species expert working at the Oregon State University (OSU) Hatfield Marine Science Center, told Lori Tobias of The Oregonian on Thursday. “They could explode at any time. It’s just like roulette. Each time something lands here, we pull the trigger. We’re getting more and more every year.”
Chapman and his OSU colleagues have been tracking and studying the debris since shortly after it began arriving on nearby beaches. That includes a dock that arrived on Agate Beach in Lincoln County, Oregon last summer following roughly 450 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Chapman explained the debris and the organisms they have found living on it have been extremely unpredictable.
“It’s been a constant surprise,” he told The Oregonian. “There was a huge diversity of organisms. There are multiple generations. They were carrying on with life like fleas on a dog’s back. The other thing that was maybe even a bigger surprise is that lots of things settled on the debris after the tsunami. We know that because it was on top of the things that were there at the time of the tsunami.”
For now, Chapman and his colleagues have to measure the debris as it washes in, keeping careful track of the types of species they harbor. He called it a “giant… terrible experiment that should have never happened,” adding, “I can’t see the dock and debris and know what happened in Japan and not feel an enormous amount of responsibility for pulling everything good out of it I possibly can.”
Experts in Canada are faced with a similar situation, according to CTV British Columbia reports published Saturday.
“Items like home cleaning supplies and kids’ toys are now littering West Coast shorelines,” they explained. However it is the “small organisms attached to the debris” that are concerning scientists. “Foreign plants and animals could devastate local ecosystems, researchers say, and as coastal communities… start to see more debris there is growing concern they won’t be able to clean it up fast enough.”
Dolf DeJong, vice president of conservation and education at the Vancouver Aquarium, told reporters invasive species were “a legitimate threat” to the province’s ecosystem.
DeJong warned, depending on exactly which organisms managed to survive and how many there are on any given piece of debris, they could adversely impact the region’s biodiversity, damage the oceans, and even have a negative fiscal influence by harming populations of economically-important life forms like shellfish.
“Canadian researchers say they haven’t had the chance to study the problem as closely because they haven’t had access to such a large item with so many organisms on it,” CTV said, adding that DeJong is urging anyone who spots a foreign object that has washed ashore to contact the aquarium or another expert so they “can determine whether it harbors invasive species.”