Researchers Document Hitchhikers on 2011 Tsunami's Debris

Researchers studied more than 600 pieces of debris that washed up on Hawaiian, U.S., and Canadian coasts, and they counted nearly 300 Japanese species on them.

A paper published in the journal Science concludes that the 2011 tsunami waves in Japan carried "hitchhikers" out to sea as they receded -- crustaceans, fish, and mollusks that traveled all the way to Hawaii and North America's western coastline, with some arriving years later.

Researchers from Williams College, Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and other institutions studied more than 600 pieces of debris that washed up on these coasts, and they counted nearly 300 Japanese species on them.

Katherine Kornei noted in an account on the journal's website that they found "roughly 80 different species on the largest piece, a 170-ton section of dock. In many cases, the scientists found that the animals had successfully reproduced along their journey. That’s evidence that the relatively slow movement of the debris (2-4 kilometers per hour) helped species adapt to changing conditions across the Pacific Ocean, the team wrote. But life hitching a ride between continents might have a dark side, the researchers noted: Debris could transport invasive species, forever changing ecosystems."

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