Species ‘Rafting’ via Marine Debris from Japanese Tsunami

By Cynthia Drummond | Courtesy of Westerly Sun

NARRAGANSETT — Stored in a laboratory in Mystic are hundreds of species that traveled across the sea all the way from Japan to North America by hitching a ride on debris from the catastrophic tsunami of 2011.

James T. Carlton, professor of marine sciences emeritus at the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport, and an expert on global marine bioinvasions, has collected more than 300 organisms from Japan that came ashore in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Carlton discussed his work on Thursday at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography as part of the Coastal State series, sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant.

Living barnacles on Japanese glass floats drifting on the high seas.

Living barnacles on Japanese glass floats as marine debris drifting on the high seas.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake, the most powerful ever to hit Japan, produced tsunami waves of up to 133 feet. Nearly 16,000 people died, and countless structures, including buildings, docks and ships, were washed out to sea.

Carlton described the path of the tsunami as it traveled across the Pacific Ocean.

“At about 3 in the afternoon, the earthquake hit in Japan. It traveled across the Pacific, came ashore in the Pacific Northwest on Friday, March 11, in the morning, because of the dateline, the same day, washed all the way through the Pacific, took out the marine laboratory in the Galapagos Islands, the Darwin Research Station, and eventually the waves washed ashore in the Antarctic,” he said.

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