HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Debris from the Japanese tsunami four years ago is still washing up on Hawaii shores and elsewhere around the Pacific. And there's still fears that invasive species hitching a ride on the debris could become established where they've washed up.
The debris has come in all sizes, raging from 60 foot-long floating docks to smaller boats and skiffs, many of them encrusted with all kinds of marine life.
"So the large things, like the docks and skiffs and the vessels that been been washed up, but also smaller pieces that become fouled and have barnacles and mussels and all sorts of things growing on them as they cross the ocean," said Dr. Cathryn Clarke Murray, a visiting scientist with the PICES North American Science Organization. She's part of a group of scientists from the U.S., Japan and Canada that are in Hawaii this week as part of a study on those creatures.
"We're going to go to the places where these large docks and vessels made landfall, and go back and see, have they established? Are they having any sort of impact? What can we learn from that?," she said.
"And we're concerned about the species that might have an effect on aquaculture or mariculture, might have an economic effect on industrial facilities, might have an effect on other aspects of the marine environment," said Dr. James Carlton, a professor of marine science at Williams College and director of the Williams-Mystic Program.
In Hawaii, NOAA has officially confirmed 23 items that have been identified as Japanese tsunami marine debris, while Carlton believes the number may be higher. Mostly recently, officials were able to find the owner of a skiff that washed up on Maui on March 9. Meanwhile, the latest models from University of Hawaii scientists show that tsunami debris could be spread over nearly all of the North Pacific, just about all of them with marine hitchhikers.
"We have over 300 species that we have now found, and many of them are not yet known to have invaded either North America or the Hawaiian Islands," said Carlton.
Scientists will be spending the next three years determining whether such an invasion has begun.