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Has Oregon Coast Dodged the Bullet on Invasive Species?

Published 03/10/2016 at 8:51 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Photo: tsunami debris boat found in Florence in March of 2013

(Oregon Coast) – Scientists are still wondering if any invasive species from Japan has gained a foothold on the Oregon coast, some five years after the tsunami from the 2011 earthquake in Japan caused an inundation of life-covered debris to wash up here. So far, over 200 species of sea creatures have been discovered – still alive – on the objects shuffled across the Pacific. (Photo: tsunami debris boat found in Florence in March of 2013).

Researchers from OSU in Corvallis and the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport say it's quite possible the region has “dodged the bullet,” as one scientist put it. Yet they admit it's still too early to be sure.

John Chapman, an Oregon State University expert on tsunami debris said that as of yet they have not found populations of non-native species firmly established just beyond the breakers.

“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,” Chapman said.

One looming example is the barred knifejaw, a fish native to Japan that has been found four different times on the United States' west coast. One is still on display at Seaside Aquarium.

Chapman said scientists were quite surprised they had survived, but also believe the waters north of California are too cold for them to spawn.

More threatening was the concrete dock that arrived in Newport in 2012, coming from Misawa, Japan. That came with nearly 200 different species on it, including varying kinds of mollusks, sea stars, oysters, amphipods, barnacles and worms. Some were open water creatures that had hitched a ride along the way and presented no threat. Others were definitely not from around here and could wreak havoc with the ecosystems of the Oregon coast near-shore environment. Perhaps even the tide pools much beloved by visitors.

Chapman said his team was “blown away” by the find.

“We had always thought these organisms would not be able to survive the long trip across the Pacific Ocean, the middle of which is a biological desert,” Chapman said. “Yet here they were.”

Samuel Chan studies aquatic ecosystem health and invasive species in Corvallis and at the central Oregon coast. He said some species found in debris have not even been identified.

Chan and other counterpart scientists in Japan engaged in several experiments where they dropped transponders into the ocean off Japan to see how long they took to arrive on the West Coast. They took about two to three years, bobbing off the waters of Japan for awhile, then quickly making their way to U.S. shorelines. There, they took plenty of time in U.S. waters before finally landing onshore.

Between the two reef areas of Japan and the U.S. there is little in the way of food. Chan believes the debris may have made a quick trip across that ocean to these reefs, where more food exists. This, he said, may account for why the creatures survived.

So, the worry remains. According to OSU spokesman Mark Floyd, scientists up and down the West Coast don't have the adequate resources to look at those shorelines in great detail, especially rocky areas like those at Yachats, Depoe Bay, or the tips of large headlands like Tillamook Head or Yaquina Head. Where to stay in this area - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

Mussels found on a tsunami debris boat in 2013

The tsunami debris dock found in Newport is still viewable outside of the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.


The fish native to Japan, still viewable at Seaside Aquarium (photo Seaside Aquarium)

The tsunami debris dock at Newport in 2012, taken at night, while still in the surf

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