Japanese Tsunami Still a Concern After Five Years

SciShort_3_17_16After marking the fifth anniversary of the Japanese tsunami last week, OSU researchers expressed their concerns over the lingering threats from invasive species due to debris from the 2011 disaster. Though none of the over 200 species observed in the aftermath of the storm seem to have taken hold in Oregon waters, scientists caution we’re not out of the woods just yet.

“Maybe we dodged the bullet, although it is still too early to tell,” said John Chapman in a press release. He’s an Oregon State expert on invasive species and he’s been doing work up and down the coastline trying to document them. He noted, “It is possible that we have not yet discovered these reproductive populations, or that some species from Japan may be cross-breeding with our own species.”

The earthquake that caused the tsunami was the biggest in Japan’s history, but it’s the industrialization of the Pacific Coast, which means a lot more garbage crossing the pond than if an earthquake of that magnitude had struck a few hundred years ago, that’s exacerbating the issue. Hitching rides on that garbage are species like barred knifejaws and Mediterranean blue mussels which have been observed in Oregon waters. The scariest example of this was the famed 165-ton Japanese dock that washed up on Newport Beach in 2012 covered in almost 200 different species. Incidents like that, and the countless ones we haven’t discovered yet, can have devastating effects on local ocean creatures.

Sam Chan, a professor with OSU’s Sea Grant Extension, summed up the concerns in the same press release. “Debris still arriving five years later is a reminder that has raised awareness among people—many of whom have been complacent or unaware—about the power and destruction that earthquakes and tsunamis can cause on both sides of the Pacific.”

By Sidney Reilly