Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Coral thriving on Bikini Atoll 70 years after 23 nuclear blasts

DISPLACED:More than half of the 167 residents of Bikini Atoll have died since the US’ bombing of their home in 1954, many from cancers related to radiation exposure

The Guardian

The former island paradise of Bikini Atoll is slowing blooming back to life, 70 years after the US dropped 23 nuclear bombs on it, including a device in 1954 that was 1,100 times larger than the atom bomb dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima.

A team of scientists from Stanford University, California, have been surprised to discover an abundance of marine life apparently thriving in the crater of Bikini Atoll, which was declared a nuclear wasteland after the bombings, with its 167 inhabitants relocated to other islands.

Steve Palumbi, a professor in marine sciences at the university, said the effects of radiation poisoning on ocean life have never been studied in-depth, and his team’s initial research suggests it is “remarkably resilient.”

Animals studied by scientists in and around the Chernobyl blast zone in Ukraine showed deformities and mutations, but the Stanford team’s initial research suggests that the marine life in Bikini might have fared significantly better.

RADIOACTIVE COCONUTS

Palumbi’s team discovered a diverse ecosystem of animal life in and around the bomb crater, including coral as big as “cars,” hundreds of schools of fish, including tuna, sharks and snapper, and coconut crabs devouring radioactive coconuts on the shore.

To the naked eye, the crabs, fish and coral of Bikini Atoll look perfectly normal and healthy, and some of the coral has been around for decades — with evidence it might have begun growing as soon as 10 years after the last bombs were dropped, Palumbi said.

“The lagoon is full of schools of fish all swirling around the living coral. In a strange way they are protected by the history of this place, the fish populations are better than in some other places, because they have been left alone, the sharks are more abundant and the coral are big. It is a remarkable environment, quite odd,” he said.

Palumbi’s team concentrated their research efforts on the coral and coconut crabs — which are the size of hubcaps — because they have long life spans, allowing the scientists to delve into what effect the radiation exposure has had on the animals DNA after building up in their systems for many years.

As fish have relatively short life spans, it is possible that the worst-affected fish died off many decades ago, and the fish living in Bikini Atoll today are only subject to low-levels of radiation exposure as they frequently swim in and out of the atoll, Palumbi said.

LONGING TO RETURN

“This is the most destructive thing we have ever done to the ocean, dropping 23 atomic bombs on it, yet the ocean is really striving to come back to life,” Palumbi said. “The fact there is life there and the life there is trying to come back from the most violent thing we’ve ever done to it is pretty hopeful.”

Even though plant, animal and ocean life is showing strong signs of recovery, humans are still unable to live and work on the atoll, besides a few caretakers who bring food and water supplies with them, and keep up the island’s facilities.

A UN report in 2012 said the effects of radiation were long-lasting.

UN Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, said “near-irreversible environmental contamination” had led to the loss of livelihoods and many people continued to experience “indefinite displacement.”

The water cannot be drunk because of continued contamination, the seafood cannot be eaten and plants cannot be farmed because of contaminated soil, he said.

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