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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Invaders by Tsunami

Invaders by Tsunami


Crabs and Gooseneck Barnacles colonize ocean plastic waste (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 in container ships; Burmese pythons were released by pet owners into the Florida Everglades; Long-horned Beetles arrived as larvae inside untreated lumber from China: and Jumping Carp, raised in aquaculture ponds in Louisiana, were released into the Mississippi River during a hurricane. They carp now threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem. Besides causing ecological havoc, invasive weeds, bugs, reptiles, and others cost billions of dollars to control. The cost of eliminating invasive species in the US has been estimated to exceed $120 billion/year

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

"a massive tsunami that launched a trans-oceanic biological rafting event with no known historical precedent."

According to an OSU announcement, nearly 300 species were documented being transported on non-degradable plastic objects that traveled across the Pacific Ocean to North America and Hawai‘i over a period of six years. Recognizing wooden materials were declining in ocean volume brought attention to the fact that non-biodegradable garbage---plastics, fiberglass, and Styrofoam---permitted the long-term survival and transport of non-native marine species just as well. The investigators never expected that live coastal species from Japan would not only survive the hostile open ocean environment but continue to survive for many years living fine 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 a huge potential for the amount of marine debris 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 invasive species. The costs associated with removing 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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