West Coast beachcombers have treasured the rare sightings of Japanese glass floats; spherical buoys strung together to aid fishermen in managing their catch. It was once thought that these translucent orbs took nearly a decade to reach the U.S.–traveling up to 8,000 miles of open sea.
But in 2011, 5 million tons of debris was washed out to sea after the devastating tsunami hit Japan, and reached the Pacific coast of North America only one year later. This massive debris field carried a variety of glass floats, as well as docks, ships, buoys, and parts of buildings. But even more surprising was the fact that along with this debris came hundreds of living plants and animals.
Nearly 400 invasive species, from mussels and crabs to fish and seaweed, have been found on tsunami debris that has landed everywhere from Alaska to California and Hawaii. While there are public health and economic issues associated with invasive species, the deeper environmental issues include the long-term ramifications in the food web, and the ability of the environment to adapt. “The world is biologically expanding.”