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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Tsunami Invaders

Tsunami Invaders

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, October 26, 2017/Categories: natural history, marine life, sustainability, environment

      Crabs and Gooseneck Barnacles Colonize Ocean Plastic (credit: Sea Education Association)

Invasive species find many ways to move from one place to another: Quagga Mussels invaded North America through the Great Lakes inside container ships; Burmese pythons were released by pet owners into the Everglades; Long-horned Beetles arrived as larvae inside untreated lumber from China: and Jumping Carp raised in aquaculture ponds were released into the Mississippi River system during floods and now threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem. A single carp was captured this summer nine miles from entering Lake Michigan. Besides causing ecological havoc, invasive weeds, bugs, reptiles, and others cost billions of dollars to control. A study by The Nature Conservancy estimated controlling invasive species in the US cost $120 billion/year.

In a new study by Oregon State University and others published in Science , the researchers describe a novel way for invasive species to disperse: floating towards coastlines attached to materials and driven by tsunami waves. In their article, the investigators determined a 2011 Japanese earthquake generated:

"a massive tsunami that launched a transoceanic biological rafting event with no known historical precedent."

According to an announcement from OSU, nearly 300 species were documented to have been transported on non-degradable plastic objects that traveled across the Pacific Ocean to North America and Hawai‘i over six years. Recognizing early in their study that wooden materials were declining in volume brought attention to the fact that non-biodegradable debris---plastics, fiberglass, and styrofoam---was permitting the long-term survival and transport of non-native marine species. No one expected that living coastal species from Japan would not only survive the hostile open ocean environment but continue to survive for many years living on 'ocean rafts'. The article's lead author, James Carlton noted:

“Given that more than 10 million tons of plastic waste from nearly 200 countries can enter the ocean every year, an amount predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025, and given that hurricanes and typhoons that could sweep large amounts of debris into the oceans are predicted to increase due to global climate change, there is huge potential for the amount of marine debris in the oceans to increase significantly”.

The article concluded: expanded coastal developments, increased availability of ocean plastics available to colonize; and increased climate change-induced storm intensities will likely expand the rafting of species. The costs of removing all the discarded plastic waste from the oceans isn't known but it is unlikely to be cheap. Expect more invasive species to arrive.

WHB

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