The U-T San Diego is running an interesting story about locals testing the kelp off Point Loma and Ocean Beach for signs of radiation from Japan’s Fukushima disaster of 2011.
Local Matt Edwards and students from San Diego State University will test Point Loma’s kelp forest – which reaches 5 miles out – and includes the shores off Ocean Beach – for traces of radioactive material from the earthquake-generated tsunami damaged nuclear power plant. He is one of about 50 such scientists who will be testing kelp up and down the West Coast.
The fear is that the radioisotopes cesium-134 and cesium-137 may have gotten picked up by Pacific Ocean currents that possibly would result in trace amounts to the California coast in 2014. Edwards told the U-T:
“We don’t know if we’re going to find a signal of the radiation. And I personally don’t believe it’ll represent a health threat if there is one. But it’s worth asking whether there’s a reason to be concerned about a disaster that occurred on the other side of the planet some time ago.”
Edwards works with the Kelp Project, a research project begun by a Cal-State Long Beach biologist, Steve Manley. Manley has studied the environmental effects of the 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan on March 11, 2011.
The kelp forest off Point Loma and OB is the largest nearly continuous area of giant kelp in the northern hemisphere.
Kelp samples will also be taken off northern San Diego County, as well as 30 locations in the waters off California, and a few more in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Baja California. The kelp is dried, then ground into powder, and then tested. The samplings will occur every 3 months for a year.
“Kelp is the perfect ‘sentinel’ organism for a project like this because it absorbs and concentrates things like radioactive material. Right now, the radioactivity from Fukushima has not reached here. If it does, well be able to measure it, even though it will be really diluted.”
.Manley had discovered very small amounts of the radioactive isotope iodine 131 in Southern California kelp less than a month after the quake and its disaster. Trace amounts had been carried by the wind and then joined the state’s coastal water with rain. In regards to finding radiation in the kelp, Manley stated:
“The best result would be that we don’t see any. But if it gets into the kelp forest ecosystem, I want to know how much is there and whether it has an affect on marine life. This is one of the most important types of ecosystems on Earth.”
The U-T reports:
Public anxiety also spiked in March 2012 when other researchers found radioactive material in bluefin tuna that had migrated to San Diego waters from Japan after the quake. The study said the fish had higher-than-normal levels of cesium, but that the material was far too diluted to hurt people. …
For much of the past three years, coastal waters have been cooler than normal, and kelp thrives in that environment. This type of seaweed can grow into dense forests that undulate near shore, providing habitat for such fish as opaleye and senorita, garibaldi and bass. Other creatures, notably prickly sea urchins, feed on the root-like portions of kelp that attach to the rocky substrate on the sea floor.
Go here for the full U-T SD story.