Hitching Rides, The Japanese Marine Animals' Way: Straight to US!

Khryss | Published 2017-10-11 13:21

An epic 7000-kilometre trip across the Pacific Ocean. Travel goals!

If you can remember the massive Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, well, you're reading on its effect now. An ongoing marine wildlife census since 2012 has documented 289 species to reach US by hitching rides on countless boats and debris from the previous year's event. That includes Japan's fish, mussels, barnacles, sea slugs, anemones, sea stars, crabs, clams and sponges.

 “They had just enough food to keep going, but they were pretty emaciated on arrival,” says James Carlton of Williams College in Massachusetts, who set up the census.

 “The largest were two large, floating fishing docks, both as long as tennis courts and half the width,” adds Carlton. “The first dock arrived in Oregon in June 2012 and had 100 species on it.”

“It’s the biggest rafting event ever aboard anthropogenic material, and the first time we’ve been able to track material on this scale." But what's probably more intriguing is the fact that the invasion isn't over yet. “We’re waiting for the spring 2018 pulse to see what comes in.”

Moreover, none of these native Japanese sea creatures has become established or invasive in the US--yet. “But after they arrive, it can take several years before we can detect them, so until they grow to a detectable point, we don’t know how many will settle,” says Carlton. “It’s like ecological roulette.”

And when climate change becomes too unbearable and increases the number or strength of storms and typhoons, more species from different places could experience the same. "Travelling the world?" you might ask. But no, being lost around the world inside water-filled troughs they don't even know about.

 “What’s of most concern is that growth in coastal infrastructure, ongoing plastic pollution, rising sea levels and extreme events make situations like the one documented more likely,” says Steven Chown of Monash University in Australia.


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