Researchers say NW dodged trouble from algae on quake debris
Oregon State University researchers joined others from the United States and Japan to identify 84 species of marine algae and cyanobacteria that landed on the Pacific Northwest coast on debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
So far, OSU officials said, none of the algae and cyanobacteria has taken a foothold in U.S. coastal waters. Because more than a dozen of the algal species are on a global list of dangerous invasive organisms, Oregon and Washington have dodged a real problem, OSU experts say.
Research by OSU and others on the algal research was published in late October in the journal 'Phycologia.' Lead author Gayle Hansen, an OSU algal taxonomist and part of the university's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, reported that quick action by Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife appeared to prevent most of the species from colonizing the shore.
"When the large concrete dock laden with marine algae and invertebrates washed ashore near Newport some 15 months after the tsunami, I was in the parking lot at ODFW folks discussing the fouling Japanese biota with some of the staff," Hansen said in an OSU Oct. 23 press release. "They decided it was imperative to remove not only the dock, but also all future tsunami debris that washed ashore on Oregon beaches as soon as possible after landing in order to reduce any possible species invasion.
"That turned out to be an extremely wise decision. When the debris materials were removed from the beaches, so was the risk of most of the algal-fouling species colonizing our shore. Although a large number of the algae were in a reproductive state, their spores typically don't live for very long, or disperse very far, so getting them off the beaches quickly was a smart move."
About 4 million to 5 million tons of debris from the massive earthquake and tsunami washed out to sea, OSU reported, and about a third of it floated thousands of miles to the Northwest Coast. Several species of algae and bacteria were attached to debris that drifted into Oregon and Washington.
From 2012 to 2016, Hansen and her Japanese colleagues, Takeaki Hanyuda and Hiroshi Kawai of Kobe University, identified and began analyzing the species. About 61 percent of the species may have been in the Northeast Pacific before the tsunami, according to OSU, many varying genetically.
The study by OSU and other researchers, funded by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, also helped identify new organisms. Thirteen of the species were on a global invasive species list, and three were considered hazardous, according to OSU.
Some subspecies were found on a derelict Japanese boat near Road's End, north of Lincoln City. The concrete dock that landed at Agate Beach, the largest piece of debris, had 31 algal species, the most found on any piece of debris during the study. However, other items also carried numerous algal species, OSU reported. A boat at Horsfall Beach in Southern Oregon had 25 different species, the Road's End boat near Lincoln City had 24 and a boat near Seal Rock had 20. Algae species were also found on pipes, tanks, pallets, baskets, beams, a tire and even a plastic carboy.
Quick work by Oregon and Washington environmental officials and volunteer groups like SOLVE of Oregon and Surfriders helped keep the algal species from taking hold in the Northwest — for now.
OSU's Mark Floyd contributed to this story.