‘Alien’ Sea Creatures Hitch A Ride To U.S.
Published: June 9, 2012
‘Alien’ Sea Creatures Hitch A Ride To U.S., The Japanese dock that washed ashore in Oregon this week yields millions of tiny stowaways.When the tsunami hit the northern coast of Japan last year, the waves ripped four dock floats the size of freight train boxcars from their pilings in the fishing port of Misawa and turned them over to the whims of wind and currents.
One floated up on a nearby island. Two have not been seen again. But one made an incredible journey across 5,000 miles of ocean that ended this week on a popular Oregon beach.
Along for the ride were hundreds of millions of individual organisms, including a tiny species of crab, a species of algae, and a little starfish all native to Japan that have scientists concerned if they get a chance to spread out on the West Coast.
“This is a very clear threat,” said John Chapman, a research scientist at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., where the dock washed up early Tuesday. “… It’s incredibly difficult to predict what will happen next.”
A dozen volunteers scraped the dock clean of marine organisms and sterilized it with torches Thursday to prevent the spread of invasive species, said Chris Havel, spokesman for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which is overseeing the dock’s fate.
The volunteers removed a ton and a half of material from the dock, and buried it above the high-water line, Havel said.
Biologists have identified one species of seaweed, known as wakame, that is native to Japan and has established in Southern California but has not yet been seen in Oregon, he said.
While scientists expect much of the floating debris to follow the currents to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of millions of tons of small bits of plastic floating in the northern Pacific, tsunami debris that can catch the wind is making its way to North America. In recent weeks, a soccer ball washed up in Alaska, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a shipping container was found in British Columbia, Canada.
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