OSU finds invasive species on Japanese dock on Oregon coast

Petri dish with sea worms on a dock that traveled across the Pacific Ocean
OSU found these sea worms on a Japanese dock that traveled across the Pacific Ocean to Newport. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

More than 160 species hitchhiked across the Pacific Ocean after tsunami

When a 66-foot dock washed up on Oregon's coast as debris from Japan's 2011 tsunami, OSU scientists were concerned that it might harbor invasive species, which can cause ecological and economic damage.

They inspected it and identified more than 90 unique creatures, including barnacles, algae and northern Pacific sea stars. At least 10 are known to be invaders in other parts of the world. Several species were reproductive upon arrival, and scientists fear they could reproduce and breed with similar local organisms, disrupting the native ecosystem. They might also bring new parasites.

Dozens of other debris items, such as buoys, timber and pallets have also washed up on Pacific Northwest shores, including more than 20 Japanese skiffs found during spring 2014. So far, OSU has catalogued more than 160 different species on tsunami debris, of which 30 percent to 40 percent are not native to the Pacific Northwest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts debris will continue to arrive for years. 

Expelling or managing an established invasive species nationally costs $6 billion for invasive fish and $122 million for aquatic weeds annually, which includes the economic impacts of commercial production losses and declining native species. Zebra mussels, for example, can clog water-intake pipes, filtration equipment and power-generating facilities, costing more than $1 billion per year.

Read more about OSU's research on invasive species related to the tsunami in an article from Oregon's Agricultural Progress.

Sources: OSU Sea Grant Extension aquatic invasive species specialist Sam Chan; Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Oregon Invasive Species Council.

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