Tsunami Invasive Species Impact Unknown

NEWPORT, Ore. — Scientists from Oregon State University released a report Wednesday saying the potential damage from invasive species found on tsunami debris may not be known for years.

More than three dozen pieces of debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami have washed ashore on the Northwest coast carrying species of algae, barnacles, mussels, starfish, and snails found only in Asia. Researchers say it’s hard to predict the ecological and economical impacts these species could have on the Pacific Northwest.

“Ecologists have a terrible track record of predicting what introduced species will survive and where,” said John Chapman, a marine invasive species specialist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Some of the invasive species may have also reproduced during the trans-Pacific journey and it is possible they could have released eggs into local coastal waters.

“I think it is safe to say that we are still concerned that some of these non-native species could establish themselves along our West Coast,” OSU researcher Jessica Miller said. “And the potential ecological impacts could be significant.”

“From day one, we’ve been asked which species we should be worried about,” Chapman said, “and the answer is just not that simple. We cannot predict which starfish or algae species poses the biggest threat, but we know that invasions in general are bad. We just don’t know which of them, if any, will turn out to be a problem five, 10 or 20 years down the road.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that another peak of debris will arrive on the West Coast between from March to June becasue of seasonal winds and ocean currents. Debris is projected to continually arrive over the next five years.

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