Wave after waves slammed into the coast of Japan, sweeping up everything in their wake seven years ago. And as the water retreats, it took everything with it.  In the aftermath, flotsam from the devastation wash up on the shores of North America. On docks, metal barrels, plastic containers, were tiny marine organisms, hitching a ride.

Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Henry Choong said now the tiny animals found on that debris are now in boxes. 

“The true value of this material, is it tells the biological story of the tsunami,” Choong said.

Swept out to sea by the tsunami, these marine organisms not only survived but thrived, in some cases for years. “Collectively we’ve been able to learn a lot about how organisms are transported across long distances,” Choong said. “And what happens during that voyage.”

Their journey is the longest-documented transoceanic survival and dispersal of coastal species by rafting. And the entire collection of Japanese animals found up and down the west coast now resides at the Royal B.C. Museum.  For Choong, the preservation of the organisms is critical. “In a museum, these specimens can be catalogued, preserved, and maintained in a way that allows us then to go back to this material in years to come.”

Pascale Archibald painstakingly unpacked the boxes.  A recent Camosun College graduate, she recognizes the significance of the work. “This is a project that doesn’t come around ever, really. It’s once in a lifetime opportunity to work on something like this,” Archibald said.

With this collection scientists, from around the world will study how invasive species populate new areas and how detection might not occur for years, or even decades.

Mary Griffin