Hitchin' a ride

Plastic debris in the world’s oceans is causing many ecological problems, and now it’s transporting alien species around the globe.

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Plastic waste floating in a harbour in the Maldives, Indian Ocean

Plastic waste floating in a harbour in the Maldives, Indian Ocean © Rosemary Calvert / Getty

 

Following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, scientists have documented nearly 300 Asian species – including molluscs, worms, anemones, starfish and crustaceans – crossing the Pacific to North America on rafts of marine debris.

“Nearly 20 percent of the species that arrived were capable of reproduction,” says Jessica Miller of Oregon State University.

“One thing this event has taught us is that some of these organisms can be extraordinarily resilient,” adds Miller’s colleague John Chapman.

“When we first saw species from Japan arriving in Oregon, we were shocked. We never thought they could live that long, under such harsh conditions. It would not surprise me if there were species from Japan that are out there living along the Oregon coast. In fact, it would surprise me if there weren’t.”

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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