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Incredible Journey: Dock Propelled from Japan to Oregon Carries a Lesson in Biology

Posted On August 30, 2012 by

Workers clean off the dock that washed ashore in Oregon. Credit: NOAA

Recently, contractors hauled away the final piece of a concrete dock weighing more than 165 tons that washed up on an Oregon beach after a 14-month journey across the Pacific Ocean. The dock was one of four that broke loose from the Japanese fishing port of Misawa during last year’s tsunami. One dock was found in Japan, a second turned up in Oregon in early June, and two are still missing.

The largest tsunami-borne object to travel across the Pacific and wash up on the West Coast so far, the dock generated immediate interest from the public. More than 1,000 people a day visited the site to pose for photos and be part of history. An enterprising artist even painted a breaking wave along one of the dock’s massive seven-foot-high sides.

Scientists at Oregon State University have been studying the impacts of invasive marine species for decades. But when the Misawa dock showed up about five miles down the coast from their Hatfield Marine Science Center, what they found defied their expectations. The Misawa dock was covered with hitchhikers: two tons of marine life – algae, crabs, shrimp, mussels, sea stars and more.

Essentially a floating island, the dock carried a complete ecosystem of Japanese coastal species, transported more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Scientists identified nearly 100 different species of sea life on the dock, including a number of species—like the brown kelp Undaria, the Asian shore crab and the North Pacific sea star—that are known to pose especially high ecological risks when introduced to new territories. Continue reading »