Henry Choong is the curator of invertebrate zoology at the Royal BC Museum. He’s standing next to a collection of samples of plants and animals washed along the west coast following the 2011 tsunami in Japan. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Hundreds of foreign species continue to wash along B.C. coast following Japanese tsunami

The Royal BC Museum is home to thousands of samples collected along the west coast of North America

In a container the size of a pickle jar sits a rope soaked in formalin, a liquid preservative. From the black rope stretches out spools of brown, spindly arms. While most would mistake the arms to be fronds of seaweed, they actually belong to an animal called a hydrozoa, a relative of jellyfish and coral. This particular species, while unassuming looking, has travelled a great distance, it comes to Victoria from Japan as a result of the 2011 tsunami.

Henry Choong is the curator of invertebrates at the Royal BC Museum, and for the past seven years, he’s also been involved in the Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris Project, a collective effort of more than 80 scientists between Alaska and California. Together, the team has kept track of Japanese debris washing up on west coast shores, collecting and cataloguing the foreign animals and plants attached to pieces of foam, wood, concrete, garbage and more.

ALSO READ: Remains of local mother orca and calf reunited in upcoming exhibit at Royal BC Museum

“The significant part of this project was that this was the first time that such a large-scale transfer had been observed,” Choong said. “We’ve been able to observe how far things can travel, how they’ve bred and how they’ve survived.”

Researchers have collected several thousand pieces of debris, being stringent to only catalogue items that could be factually linked to Japan. This might mean a buoy has Japanese writing on it, or a piece of a house shows characteristics of framing techniques only used in Japan.

“On the debris in total there are more than 289 Japanese species,” Choong said. “Only a small percentage of those were already here, arrived by other means.”

Most of these species were plants and invertebrates, though some samples of fish and insects were also found. While these specimens have arrived over the past eight years, Choong said it’s too early to say if any of these species will be problematic to native plants and animals in the local environment.

“There’s a phenomenon called an invasion lag, and what that means is from the time something arrives to when it’s established can take a long time,” Choong said. “So for the tsunami, it’s far too recent to say what has been established here if any … but it informs us as to the kind of things we need to look out for.”

So far, researchers have already found samples of hydrozoans in mussels transported over from Japan, so now Fisheries and Oceans Canada keeps an eye out for this species when conducting mussel surveys.

ALSO READ: UVic scientist assesses contamination levels from Fukushima aftermath

The majority of the biological collection of the Japanese Tsunami Debris project is now stored at the Royal BC Museum and has been featured in small displays over the years. Some samples will be displayed at a Victoria conference for the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) from Oct. 16 to 27.

The research is also ongoing; while the level of debris has slowed down since 2011, things still continue to wash ashore. Most of the items sit on the shelf in a display of jars and carefully padded boxes reminiscent of a mythical apothecary, providing a biological record for reference in the future.

“The collection is not the end product of the project,” Choong said. “What you’re seeing is actually the starting point for everything that is to come.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Just Posted

City of Victoria considers proposed senior rental development

The Mount St. Angela’s complex aims to include affordable rental units

Middle school students busted for vaping in Oak Bay

Oak Bay Police respond to minors vaping, arson, and transients sleeping in a car

Peninsula Panthers look to claw their way back into the win column

Panthers remain the best team in the league, but the Victoria Cougars are set to pounce

Last call for raffle ticket to win $6,900 necklace with 163 diamonds

Oak Bay contest funds patient care for people and families dealing with cancer

More than 30 cars get tires slashed in Oaklands neighbourhood

VicPD are asking for help from witnesses to the incidents

WATCH: Greater Victoria’s top stories of the day

A round-up of the day’s top stories

Union says Western Forest Products refuses to budge from ‘unreasonable concessions’

According to a press release, both parties met on Oct. 16, 18, 19, and 20.

Alberta man pleads guilty, fined for hunting without a licence in North Island

It’s the responsibility of each hunter or angler to know whether they are considered a B.C. Resident.

Alcohol a possible factor in crash that killed 17-year-old girl near Williams Lake

A pickup truck left the road and rolled over on Highway 20 on the weekend

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

App designed to help cut waste and grocery bills

Food security advocates say addressing poverty is ultimate key

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

B.C. scouting group’s tent destroyed by black bear on Thanksgiving

The Richmond-based Sea Dragon Sea Scouts were camping at Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Most Read