Plas­tic waste serves as ‘ocean raft’

Sci­en­tists find 289 live species on de­bris swept into Pa­cific by Ja­panese tsunami and car­ried to US

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Sarah Knap­ton SCI­ENCE ED­I­TOR

PLAS­TIC de­bris in the oceans is trans­port­ing crea­tures across the globe, sci­en­tists have warned.

For the first time in recorded his­tory, re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that en­tire com­mu­ni­ties of coastal species have crossed thou­sands of miles of wa­ter float­ing on makeshift rafts.

Be­tween 2012 and 2017, nearly 300 species of marine an­i­mals ar­rived alive in North Amer­ica from Ja­pan, hav­ing trav­elled on crates and other ob­jects re­leased into the Pa­cific af­ter the Ja­panese earth­quake and tsunami of 2011.

Al­though the nat­u­ral dis­as­ter was an ex­treme case, sci­en­tists say it is likely that many non-na­tive species are trav­el­ling across thou­sands of miles of wa­ter on “ocean rafts” of marine plas­tic, car­ried by storm surges. “I didn’t think that most of these coastal or­gan­isms could sur­vive at sea for long pe­ri­ods of time,” said Greg Ruiz, a marine bi­ol­o­gist at the Smith­so­nian En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search Cen­ter. “But in many ways they just haven’t had much op­por­tu­nity in the past. Now, plas­tic can com­bine with tsunami and storm events to cre­ate that op­por­tu­nity on a large scale.” John Chap­man, a marine Some of the crea­tures that have sur­vived de­spite a haz­ardous, long trip sci­en­tist at Ore­gon State Univer­sity, added: “This has turned out to be one of the big­gest, un­planned nat­u­ral ex­per­i­ments in marine bi­ol­ogy, per­haps in his­tory.”

The 2011 tsunami swept mil­lions of ob­jects out to sea, from small pieces of plas­tic to en­tire fish­ing boats and even docks. Sci­en­tists be­gan find­ing tsunami de­bris wash­ing up in Hawaii and western North Amer­ica in 2012, with liv­ing or­gan­isms still at­tached.

They de­tected 289 live species on de­bris orig­i­nat­ing from Ja­pan. Mol­luscs such as mus­sels ap­peared most of­ten of all in­ver­te­brates. Worms, crus­taceans and bry­ozoans, which form un­der­wa­ter colonies, were close be­hind. Nearly twothirds of the species had never been seen on the US west coast. Sci­en­tists think the slower speed of ocean rafts may have al­lowed species to ad­just to their new en­vi­ron­ments.

More than 10mil­lion tons of plas­tic waste en­ters the oceans each year. The re­search was pub­lished in Sci­ence.

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