Japanese and U.S. researchers are issuing an environmental alert against a threat posed by invasive wakame seaweed that hitched a ride on debris that washed ashore on the U.S. West Coast following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The researchers say the seaweed, which is native to Japan and elsewhere in northeastern Asia, is confirmed to have reached the coast of Oregon clinging to a massive floating dock. Infestations of the marine life have damaged local fisheries in Europe, Australia and California, collecting in large clumps on nets and ropes.
“We are expecting more debris to reach North America in the future, and local residents should be vigilant,” said Hiroshi Kawai, professor of phycology at Kobe University, who conducted the research.
Kawai is scheduled to discuss the infestation along the Oregon coast at the convention of the Japanese Society of Phycology in Yamanashi Prefecture on March 28.
The dock from Misawa port in Aomori Prefecture drifted to Oregon in June last year after the tsunami generated by the quake struck northeastern Japan in March a year earlier, sending waves of floating debris across the Pacific. Researchers at Oregon State University sent algae samples and photos for analyses.
Kawai and other scientists examined samples and photos of algae species attached to the dock and a Japanese fishing boat that washed up on the shores of the state of Washington around the same time.
The Japanese researchers confirmed the existence of 31 varieties of algae, including wakame, which were present on the dock. The species grew to maturity and is ready to thrive, according to the researchers.
Beforehand, wakame was not known to have existed in Oregon and Washington. Some European countries, Australia and the state of California have also reported damage from wakame infestations in local waters. Wakame flourished and spread, in part, due to the absence of fish in local waters that feed on it.
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