Dr. James Carlton, professor of marine sciences and director of Williams-Mystic, is a member of a group of researchers that has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the marine biology of Japanese tsunami debris in the U.S. The NSF has awarded $29,113 of this grant to Williams College for support of the project, titled “Collaborative Proposal: Testing the Invasion Process: Survival, Dispersal, Genetic Characterization, and Attenuation of Marine Biota on the 2011 Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris Field.”
The Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 ejected into the North Pacific Ocean a vast amount of material that began landing in North America in the spring of 2012, and which continues to come ashore from Alaska to California and Hawaii. Carlton and his colleagues on the Pacific coast are studying the diversity, condition, and biology of the marine life attached to this debris, particularly focusing on the potentially invasive species from Japanese harbors and ports. Their work began with the arrival of a large (66 feet long x 7 feet tall x 17 feet wide, and weighing 188 tons) floating pier that originated from Misawa (northern Honshu) and landed in Oregon on June 5, and so far they have documented more than 100 species that were aboard the pier. Carlton is now lead principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant to continue to document the Japanese species arriving in North America and Hawaii with derelict boats, buoys, and other marine debris generated by the tsunami.
Since 1989, Carlton has served as director of the Williams-Mystic Program, where he teaches marine ecology. His research focuses on global marine bioinvasions—their ecosystem impacts, dispersal mechanisms, and management strategies—and on marine extinctions in modern times.
Carlton is the founding editor-in-chief of the international journal Biological Invasions. He is also a Pew Fellow in marine conservation and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Carlton was featured in the nationally broadcast PBS-National Geographic series “Strange Days on Planet Earth.” He is heard annually on NPR and was named an “Ocean Hero” by the Smithsonian Institution in 1995.
Carlton received his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1971 and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, in 1979.