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Creation 33(2):54–55, April 2011

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Natural rafts carried animals around the globe



According to the Bible, the only nostril-breathing, land-dwelling animals that survived the Genesis Flood were those on board Noah’s Ark. This means, that all the land vertebrates alive on the earth today must be descended from the offspring of the Ark travellers. Moreover, these must have migrated to their current habitats from the place where the Ark finally came to rest, somewhere on the mountains of Ararat, in the Middle East. Various theories have been put forward to explain how this could have happened, some of which seem quite plausible, such as migration across land bridges, which have now fallen below sea level, and transportation by humans.

Another explanation which is gaining increasing support is the rafting hypothesis.

Interestingly, the potential for dispersal of plants and animals across large stretches of water by natural rafts has been accepted by evolutionists for many years. Professor Paul Moody of the University of Vermont argued,

Steve Murray
Iguanas colonised Anguilla in the West Indies on rafts.

“In times of flood, large masses of earth and entwining vegetation, including trees, may be torn loose from the banks of rivers and swept out to sea. Sometimes such masses are encountered floating in the ocean out of sight of land, still lush and green, with palms, twenty to thirty feet [7 to 10 m] tall. It is entirely probable that land animals may be transported long distances in this manner. Mayr records that many tropical ocean currents have a speed of at least two knots; this would amount to fifty miles [80 km] a day, 1000 miles [1600 km] in three weeks.”1

More recently, the rafting idea has been advanced by evolutionists to explain the presence of the Bear Cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) and the Dwarf Cuscus (Strigocuscus celebensis) on the island of Sulawesi2 and of lemurs on the island of Madagascar.3 In 1995, fishermen witnessed the colonisation of the island of Anguilla in the West Indies by iguanas. These were washed up on one of the island’s eastern beaches, having floated there on a mat of logs and uprooted trees, a few weeks after two hurricanes hit the islands of the Lesser Antilles. Scientists believed that the iguanas had rafted 320 km from Guadeloupe.4,5

Significantly, biogeographers sometimes refer to oceans rather than continents as the main biogeographic regions. This is because, very often, patterns are seen, where many terrestrial organisms are distributed around the land bordering an ocean. So clear was this to the twentieth century biogeographer, Léon Croizat, that he spent much time drawing “tracks” to chart repetitious occurrences of these patterns.6,7 The track for Oreobolus plants, for example, is shown in fig. 1, and it is one that is shared with a multitude of other plants and animals.8,9

Fig 1
Fig 1. Tracks showing occurrence of Oreobolus plants around Pacific Ocean.

The destructive power of large volumes of fast-flowing water is enormous and, in the early stages of the Genesis Flood, would have been sufficient to rip-up large amounts of woodland. Although some of this would have been buried in sediments, many billions of trees would have been left floating on the surface of the waters, as enormous ‘log mats’.

These islands of vegetation, regularly watered by rainfall, could have easily supported plant and animal life over significant periods of time. Ocean currents would have moved these massive ‘rafts’ around the globe, sometimes washing them up beside land, where animals and insects might ‘embark’ or ‘disembark’, and then transporting them back out to sea. I’m not suggesting that land animals survived the Genesis Flood on rafts. Rather, these rafts would have facilitated their dispersal after the Flood, as they multiplied and migrated away from the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4).

The ability of ocean currents to distribute floating objects around the world was seen recently, when thousands of bathtub rubber ducks were lost off a container ship in the North Pacific in 1992. In less than three months, these had floated to Indonesia, Australia and South America, and subsequently into the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.10,11


Interestingly, the patterns of plant and animal distribution throughout the world are not random, as might be expected from evolutionary theory. Instead, we often find many different species clustered in what biogeographers describe as “areas of endemism”—where many different plants and animals are concentrated in the same distinct and often small regions.

Moreover, and most significantly, the areas of high plant endemism generally correspond to areas of high animal endemism.12,13 This, together with the fact that there are often many floral and faunal similarities between areas of endemism14, provides strong support for the idea that the plants and animals were transported to these places—and by the same means.

Further support for the rafting theory was provided by researchers at Bryan College, Tennessee, who showed that the intersections of ocean currents with land masses appear to correspond with the areas of endemism found throughout the world.15

Explaining patterns of biogeography is difficult because the events in question all occurred many years outside of living memory. Creation scientists, however, have an advantage over other scientists, as the Bible provides a historical framework which can guide their thinking. And, as with other areas of creation research, the field data is increasingly seen to fit the biblical model better than the evolutionary model.

References and notes

  1. Moody, P., Introduction to Evolution, Harper & Brothers, New York, USA, p. 262, 1953. Return to text.
  2. Heinsohn, T., A Giant Among Possums, Nature Australia 26(12):24–31, Autumn 2001. Return to text.
  3. Tattersal, I., Madagascar’s Lemurs, Scientific American, p. 90, January 1993; Hitch-hiking lemurs, Creation 15(4):11, 1993. Return to text.
  4. Censky, E. et al., Over-Water Dispersal of Lizards due to Hurricanes, Nature 395:556, 8 October 1998; Surfing lizards wipe out objections, Creation 21(2):7–9, 1999. Return to text.
  5. Yoon, C., Hapless Iguanas Float Away and Voyage Grips Biologists, The New York Times, 13 March 2008, www.nytimes.com. Return to text.
  6. Humphries, C.J. and Parenti, L.R., Cladistic Biogeography: Interpreting Patterns of Plant and Animal Distributions, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2nd ed., pp. 33–37, 138, 1999. Return to text.
  7. Croizat, L., Panbiogeography, vol. 1, 2A and 2B, self-published, 1958. Return to text.
  8. Seberg, O., Taxonomy, Phylogeny, and Biogeography of the Genus Oreobolus R.Br. (Cyperaceae), With Comments on the Biogeography of the South Pacific Continents. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 96: 119–195, 1988. Return to text.
  9. Buffalo Museum of Science, Vicariance Biogeography and Panbiogeography of the Plant Genus Oreobolus (Cyperaceae): A Comparison of Methods and Results. New York, USA. www.sciencebuff.org/panbiogeography_of_oreobolus.php. Return to text.
  10. Ford, P., Drifting Rubber Duckies Chart Oceans of Plastic. Christian Science Monitor, 31 July 2003. www.csmonitor.com. Return to text.
  11. Clerkin, B., Thousands of Rubber Ducks to Land on British Shores After 15 Year Journey. Daily Mail, 27 June 2007. www.dailymail.co.uk. Return to text.
  12. Nelson, G. and Platnick, N., Systematics and Biogeography: Cladistics and Vicariance, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 368, 524, 1981. Return to text.
  13. Cox, C.B., The Biogeographic Regions Reconsidered. Journal of Biogeography, 28:4 511–523, 2001. www.blackwell-synergy.com. Return to text.
  14. Ref. 6, preface and pp. 21,34, 87. Return to text.
  15. Wise, K.P. and Croxton, M., Rafting: A Post-Flood Biogeographic Dispersal Mechanism,. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., Pennsylvania, pp. 465–477, USA, 2003. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

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by John Morris, Steven A Austin
US $17.00
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Evolution: Good Science?
by Dominic Statham
US $13.00
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Readers’ comments

Alex F.
If rafting is a significant dispersal mechanism it is difficult to see how all the different kinds of marsupial and monotreme (kangaroo, koala, wombat, opossum, marsupial mole, echidna, platypus, and many more) managed to get to Australia when no placental mammal did! It is further hard to see why no terrestrial mammals of any kind reached New Zealand, only 800 miles away!
Dominic Statham
I have answered this question about marsupial distributions in my response to John C. above.

During the Ice Age (Pleistocene), there was probably a land bridge from Asia that almost reached Australia. So the distance that marsupials would have needed to raft to get to Australia would have been quite short. The distance from Australia to New Zealand is much greater, making this less probable.
Gary H.
The idea of plants and animals being transported around the globe on these raft like structures is something that Darwin discusses in his excellent book "On the Origin of Species" I recommended it.
Dominic Statham
I have read the Origin of Species and regard it as very poor science. Darwin’s perceived mechanism of evolution was based on his blind faith in two ‘laws’: (1) the ‘law of variation’ and (2) the ‘law of natural selection’. In his view, (1) gave rise, effectively, to unlimited variation. However, while he knew that the breeders had produced remarkable changes in species such as pigeons and dogs, it was also well-known by the nineteenth century that there were strict limits to the extent to which animals could be modified by artificial selection. Pigeons remained pigeons and dogs remained dogs. Darwin simply ignored this. His view of (2) was no less of a blind leap of faith, as he never studied natural selection so as to evaluate its efficacy. Recent work in this field indicates that natural selection doesn’t even have the power to save the genome from inexorable degeneration, let alone build the polyfunctional and multidimensional information system we now know it to be. (See geneticist-evolution-impossible.)

Darwin’s theory was, from the beginning, ideologically driven, not scientifically driven, as I show here: darwin-and-lyell.
D. D.
I can see how this is logical for animals like iguanas etc, but how did the larger mammals do so?
Dominic Statham
The median size of all animals on the Ark would probably have been around that of a small rat, while only about 11% would have been much larger than a sheep. I doubt that elephants rafted to their current habitats!
Daniel B.
Rafting could certainly explain why all the native mammalian species of Australia and Tasmania are marsupials. There may be something about marsupial mammals that makes them able to survive a long ocean voyage.
Dominic Statham
An interesting topic for research. The Little Mountain Monkey of S. America (Dromiciops gliroides) is more closely related to Australian marsupials than other S. American marsupials. May be it rafted to S. America from Australia.

Rafting from Southern Asia to Australia may not have taken very long.
Eden L.
This is a poorly constructed argument, although some of your points are valid. I think objectivity is the order of the day. It is not reasonable to conclude that all land vertebrates in Australia, the Americas and various islands arrived via raft-drifting, although that could certainly happen from time to time. Animals tend to require food and water, so weeks and months adrift is more than most could survive. What is actually likely (having studied ecology, geography and theology) is that (1) as Stephen D. mentioned, the continents separated post-flood (after flora and fauna, as well as cultures, had re-established). Remember that God had brought the land into 'one place', the continents sit on mobile plates of the Earth's crust, and that the land had previously been super-saturated. It's highly possible that the Earth's people groups were also relocated across the globe by this separation. Gen. 10 suggests Babel as approximately one generation before the division of the Earth (although this may not be the case). (2) Vertebrate spread between Europe and North America, and Asia and Australia could have occurred during an 'ice age' period, such as after the flood. Massive glaciation marks down North America show that the world was much colder at some point. At this time much sea water would have been tied up at the poles, opening up many land bridges between continents.
Please try to consider all possible explanations, and their logical outcomes, before decrying certainty. Cheers.
Dominic Statham
We certainly agree that all possible explanations for the observed patterns of biogeography should be considered. This would include migration across land bridges as I mentioned at the beginning of the article. We discuss the forming of land bridges during the post-Flood ice age in ch. 17 of the Creation Answers Book.

As I replied to Stephen D., we think that the division of the earth in the days of Peleg probably refers to the separation of the peoples at Babel when God confused their languages (see in-pelegs-days-the-earth-was-divided). Rapid separation of the continents in the days of Peleg would arguably have been so catastrophic as to start another global flood!

Many animals could easily have survived a few weeks on rafts, eating vegetation on the log mats and drinking water from rainfall. As Professor moody pointed out, these rafts could easily have travelled distances of 1000 miles in three weeks.
John C.
You say:

"Interestingly, the patterns of plant and animal distribution throughout the world are not random, as might be expected from evolutionary theory."

What makes you think that? I'm pretty sure evolutionary theory would predict similar animals in specific places, with gradual changes over geography, with bigger differences across bigger geographic boundaries. For instance: you'd expect to find lots of unique animals on a distantly isolated island (like Australia).

It's the flood theory that seems more likely to randomly distribute animals to me. Why don't we see Kangaroos around Turkey? They would not have had to go far from Mt. Ararat to find a hot arid environment to call home.
Dominic Statham
Very strong patterns emerge from global studies of biogeography. For example, often we find many different plants and animals concentrated in small regions called ‘Areas of Endemism’. (Endemic means native or restricted to a particular area and an area of endemism is one where there are a high number of endemic species—where many different species are found in the same small distinct region.) Since evolution is understood to be a global phenomenon, it is difficult to see why it should favour these particular areas.

We also find many similarities between these regions—where the same plants and animals are distributed around or either side of an ocean. There are numerous patterns of disjunction like this, where, again and again, we find the same plants and animals in the same widely separated areas. Christopher Humphries of the Natural History Museum in London and Lynne Parenti of the Smithsonian Institution wrote,

“Characteristically, many disjunct patterns span ocean bottoms, to the point that the oceans have been characterized as the natural biogeographic regions and the continents represent the land areas around the periphery” (Cladistic Biogeography, p. 36, 1999).

Again this is hardly a prediction of evolution. However, since these areas of endemism appear to correspond to intersections of ocean currents with the continents, rafting may provide a good explanation.

Marsupial distributions are not explained any better in an evolutionary model than a creationist model. Marsupial fossils are found on every continent so, in evolutionary thinking, marsupials must have died out on all the continents except the ones where we find them today. Why can't creationists simply argue the same?

Some evolutionists argue that placentals tend to outcompete marsupials when they share the same habitats (which may be true). It may be that competition from placentals drove marsupials to migrate away from the Ark ahead of placentals. Perhaps marsupials then gained an early foothold in Australia and South America and, in these fairly isolated areas, and without competition from placentals, they thrived in those places.

Stephen D.
Is there any way that animals could have populated most of the earth before the continents separated in the days of Peleg? (That is if we assume that "the earth was divided in the days of Peleg" means the continets were divided up...)
Dominic Statham
We tend to view the division in the days Peleg as a reference to the dispersion at Babel, following the confusion of languages.

See ‘In Peleg’s days, the earth was divided’: What does this mean?
Jeff M.
Koalas must have had some help from Him above. Somehow or other these little fellas managed to fetch up on the one patch of ground where there only food - Eucalyptus trees are found. One wonders what they ate en route however.
Dominic Statham
This question has been answered here Cuddly cold-cures counter critics.
Daniel R.
I agree with Chuck J. as to God dispersing the animals. The situation was dire. From the very beginning the earth was lush, full of plants, fish, birds, animals pletiful, bountiful and all flourished. Now just a few of each kind (many meat eaters) on a land destroyed by flood.They stepped off the arc into a different world then when they boarded. They had to be returned to their natural habitat, the habitat had to be renewed, they needed food, they needed to get right back to where they started from and they needed it right now. God got all of them on the arc, kept them during the journey and why would He not take care of them all once they were back on dry land. The whole thing is miraculous...the arc and the Promise of the arc in the sky.... after the rain!
Chuck J.
All of these methods seem plausible. Also, unless I've missed it somewhere, God could have used whatever miraculous method that He used to have the animals congregate and board the ark to disperse the animals afterward.
Dominic Statham
I would agree that God intervened in bringing the right animals to Noah, as this is implied in Genesis 6:20. However, I would favour naturalistic explanations as to how animals dispersed following their disembarkation from the Ark.
Paul T.
Such flood transport mechanisms of life do add weight to the worlds' history being thousands and not millions of years old. Flood waters would have scoured the surface of the world as it existed and left a virgin landscape, ready for life to recolonise the surface. Without the catastrophic evidence of the flood, I personally find it difficult to comprehend how a history involving millions of years could explain why it is possible to track such movements of life. Even the modern methods of transport: shipping, flying and road, can transport animals, plants and disease great distances sometimes with devastating effects.
Micah D.
Good article.

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