Scientists Concerned About What May Be On Tsunami Debris

Scripps Institute of Oceanography Scientist Says Plants, Animals Floating With Debris Could Cause Problems On Coast

Local scientists are growing concerned about debris from the Japanese tsunami that is washing up on American shores, which they say could cause major problems along the West Coast.

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Video from Japan on the day the tsunami hit was unforgettable. A huge, powerful wave washed away everything in its path. Then, the waters receded, pulling everything out to sea and toward the western shores of the United States.

"There could be some major problems occurring," said Dr. Jim Eckman, who is with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

He was referring to the species of plants and animals that could attach themselves to debris and float over.

One major area of concern is clams, mussels and oysters from Japan that could mix in with oysters grown in aquaculture farms up and down the West Coast.

"They could bring with them natural parasites and natural diseases that could have impacts on some of our local businesses," Eckman said.

Another concern is invasive plant life, including brown algae that are native to the Japanese coast.

"This material can cause explosive growth on surfaces and can displace a lot of natural plants and animals," he said.

Eckman and other scientists say it is important for everyone to get involved.

He said if you are walking along the coast and you see a piece of debris that you are able to move, pick it up and move it above the high tide line. Then, call someone from the state Fish & Game Department to report it.

There have already been many examples of debris that have washed up from Alaska to Oregon, including a soccer ball with Japanese writing on it and a crate that once held Kirin beer. The problem is that it is hard to know what damaging species could be on which pieces of debris.

"You never know exactly what's going to explode in population growth and cause the big problems here," said Eckman.

He said he expects debris from the tsunami to continue to wash up on American shores for another year and a half and he said some of it will inevitably reach California.

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