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Tons of animals have floated from Japan to Oregon on plastic junk

The morning of June 5, 2012, invasive species researcher John Chapman’s wife, who works for the health department in Newport, Oregon, told him he had to go with her to see a mysterious object that had washed onto the town’s beach. Chapman was initially skeptical that the beached mass would be of any interest to him, scientifically speaking. The Oregon police and parks service were already at the scene, checking the large concrete slab for radiation. A plaque said the object was a fisheries dock from Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, Japan, but Chapman only had to glance at the creatures stuck to the plastic to know the source. “I was completely shocked to see all these Asian species on this dock,” he says. That object was a small chunk of many tons of plastic garbage launched into the sea in 2011, after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, according to a new study in Science. Invertebrates like the Japanese shipworm and the Asian shore crab — and even a few species of fish—colonized the debris, forming floating islands of garbage and sea creatures. These floating piles of junk traveled more than 4,350 miles to land on U.S. coastlines. They started showing up in late 2011, and will no doubt continue to arrive in the years to come. These heaps of slimy stowaways carry the threat of foreign invasion by creatures that could thrive in vulnerable U.S. ecosystems. And they're a signal that the millions of tons of plastic trash circulating through the ocean may be transporting organisms all over the world. “We were supremely confident that organisms did not drift passively on debris and floating objects across the ocean,” says Chapman, who works at Oregon State University. “Sometimes in your life, you learn a powerful lesson in an instant.”

Read More: Popular Science

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