Winter storms off the Oregon and Washington coastlines are expected to bring a new wave of debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Scientists say objects are already washing ashore – with potentially invasive organisms riding along.
In March, 2011 an earthquake and tsunami devastated a large swath of eastern Japan. The tsunami reached heights of over 100 feet in some places, washing large quantities of manmade materials out to sea. Japanese officials estimate that about 1.5 million tons of debris floated out into the Pacific.
“If we look at the amount of debris that we’ve found on the shore. And we try to estimate the poundage of debris and add it all up, it’s not even close,” he said. “So, where is it?”
“This is the biggest experiment in marine invasion ecology that’s ever happened. It’s unprecedented,” Chapman said.
He said open oceans are the marine equivalent of deserts: there’s nothing out there. At least, nothing of substance, nutrient-wise that coastal organisms would need to survive. This was the prevailing thought among marine scientists – until that first Japanese dock section washed up in June, 2012 on the Oregon Coast.
As the years passed and the debris continued to circulate in the North Pacific, Chapman assumed the amount of living coastal organism would decrease. Again, he’s been proven incorrect.
“We’re still finding species that we haven’t seen before. It doesn’t make sense to us,” he said. “We shouldn’t be doing that, but it seems to be happening.”
The plastic shipping tote that washed up in Oregon in late November was covered in about 200 blue mussels.
Yet, just because non-native marine organisms are washing up on the West Coast doesn’t mean they’re establishing populations here; it doesn’t mean they aren’t, either.
“But these things aren’t bison. They’re little tiny things - sometimes diseases and parasites. And even if they are here, sometimes we don’t find them for years.”