Quirks & Quarks

Marine invaders ride tsunami garbage from Asia to the Americas

Nearly 300 different marine species have rafted across the Pacific on man-made debris from the Japanese tsumani in 2011

Garbage rafting, hurricanes and the spread of non-native species

4 years ago
Duration 1:00
Garbage rafting, hurricanes and the spread of non-native species 1:00

The tsunami

On March 11th, 2011, a 9.1 magnitude undersea earthquake took place off the coast of Japan, resulting in a devastating tsunami. As a result, millions of objects ranging from small plastic items, crates, buoys, fishing vessels and even two 180-ton concrete docks were swept out to sea.  Many of those items ended up on the shores of Hawaii as well as the western United States and British Columbia  

The discovery

New research by Dr. James Carlton, a marine ecologist from Williams College at the Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies Program in Connecticut, has found that nearly 300 different coastal marine species have crossed the Pacific by hitching a ride on that debris.  Most of those species arrived alive on the field of largely man-made debris.  They included several species of fish, as well as clams, barnacles, mussels, sponges, mollusks and many other invertebrate species that are not know in North America.  The researchers speculate that there is still a large number of 'rafting' species yet to be identified.      

What's at stake?

Although it is too early to tell if any of those species have established a population, the concern is that there is potential for any number of those invertebrates to become invasive.  By studying how these species have been redistributed across the Pacific on the large field of tsunami debris, they suggest that the increase in number of storms such as hurricanes, will contribute to the problem of potentially harmful marine species migration.