A tsunami’s worth of sea crea­tures

289 species came to U.S. on drift­ing de­bris from Ja­pan

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Nation&world - By The Wash­ing­ton Post

They’re a long way from home.

Nearly 300 species of fish, mus­sels, crabs and var­i­ous other sea crea­tures drifted from the shores of Ja­pan to the Pa­cific coast of the United States on de­bris sent across the ocean by a tsunami in 2011.

“When we first saw species from Ja­pan ar­riv­ing in Ore­gon, we were shocked,” John Chap­man from Ore­gon State Univer­sity told BBC News. “We never thought they could live that long, un­der such harsh con­di­tions.”

Chap­man co-wrote a study pub­lished Thurs­day in the jour­nal Science that ex­plored the sea crit­ters’ jour­ney from Ja­pan to the U.S. af­ter the To­hoku earth­quake trig­gered the tsunami. These cat­a­strophic events sent de­bris, such as docks and cool­ers, drift­ing across the ocean.

Peo­ple be­gan notic­ing these ob­jects wash­ing ashore five years ago. In 2012, for ex­am­ple, a 66-foot-long dock washed up on Ore­gon’s Agate Beach, and it was covered in small sea crea­tures, the Oregonian re­ported.

Now, 289 species have been iden­ti­fied in the study.

“It’s a bit of what we call eco­log­i­cal roulette,” lead au­thor James Carl­ton, a ma­rine sci­ences pro­fes­sor at Wil­liams Col­lege, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“We have cre­ated a new eco­log­i­cal process, the process of mega-raft­ing,” Steven L. Chown, a pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Monash Univer­sity in Aus­tralia, who was not in­volved in the re­port, told the New York Times. “The de­vel­op­ment of ma­te­ri­als that can float for ages, and the ris­ing lev­els of seas due to cli­mate change, make the pos­si­bil­ity of these events larger and larger.”

JOHN W. CHAP­MAN

These sea slugs came from a derelict ves­sel that washed up in Ore­gon af­ter the 2011 Ja­panese tsunami.

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