The invasive species that surf the trash caused by Fukushima

It’s been 10 years since him, but Japan’s 2011 tsunami is still remembered. The one that many of us know and remember from Fukushima, but that had many other consequences: it killed 16,000 people and dumped approximately five tons of waste into the sea.

But not only that. Because Among this enormous amount of waste, the 2011 tsunami also dispersed around 300 species with invasive potential throughout the planet. – According to a study by the Center for Environmental Studies of the Smithsonian Institution there are 289 species – that have ended up scattered along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Species among which you can find sea snails, anemones or isopods, a type of crustaceans. But also micro-algae with toxic potential, fish …

That some, many, of these species have invasive potential is very important, although it is a bit complex to explain. The cycle of a biological invasion happens because a species reaches a place where it could not reach by its own means, settles in the ecosystem, maintains stable populations and once it has achieved this, it supposes an impact or pressure on local species.

If we talk about the invasive potential of a species, it is because this species has already reached where it could not alone, it has naturalized and maintains stable populations and has begun to generate pressure on the ecosystem and the species that inhabit it. It is not yet clear that it will pose a serious problem for local biodiversity, but due to its characteristics it could. It is in the step between being a naturalized species and an invasive one.

The effect of invasive species is well known: affect local populations, being able to take them to extinction, reduce biodiversity … and Above all, they simplify ecosystems. And the simplest ecosystems are more fragile, less resilient, to change.

The case of the Fukushima species – to give them a quick name – shows something else, a very interesting one: that the species have been able to survive up to six years adrift through the Pacific.

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What large accumulations of waste, mainly plastics, float and drift through the oceans is not surprising. That some species surf these garbage masses, either. But The fact that there are species capable of surviving six years in these “artificial boats” is striking.. Especially if we take into account that for some of these species, six years can even be several generations, for example in the case of microalgae.

Some have even changed their way of life. In technical terms, we call biofouling the process by which a species “sticks” to a structure to survive. And some of the species present in the waste generated by Fukushima have developed biofouling, something that in their natural environment they did not do.

In short, the 2011 tsunami in Japan is still giving bad news after ten years.