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Marine wildlife are dying from 'long-term, chronic exposure to radionuclide-contaminated water' from Fukushima


(NaturalNews) A new study published in the Aug. 2014 journal Ecological Indicators explores the effects that Fukushima's nuclear accident is having on marine life, an issue that the public and scientists have pondered and worried about since the meltdown occurred in 2011.

Three and a half years have passed since a 15-meter tsunami, triggered by a major earthquake, dismantled the power supply, causing the meltdown of three of Fukushima's Daiichi reactors in Japan. The "double quake," which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, shook the Japanese mainland for a solid three minutes, releasing radioactive material into the air, reaching as far as the U.S. West Coast, and possibly beyond.

Scientists have blamed population decline and genetic damage in animals, insects and wildlife living near the site on the release of radioactive material. One example is the pale grass blue butterfly, a common butterfly species found in Japan. Reduction in size, slow growth and a high mortality rate appear to plague the species in the region surrounding Fukushima, according to a report by Tech Times.

Marine birds near Fukushima plume experience vitamin A deficiencies

In the recent report entitled "Reduced vitamin A (retinol) levels indicate radionuclide exposure in Streaked Shearwaters (Calonectris leucomelas) following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident," researchers analyzed the impact of radioactive material on marine life.

The study launched an investigation into the "immediate physiological response" of a bird species that primarily breeds in Japan. Streaked Shearwaters, a species of seabird, inhabit 11 of the country's islands, each of which serves as a temporary home for more than 10,000 breeding pairs.

While the global population is estimated to be around 3 million, islanders say the birds are declining in numbers, according to Birdlife.org.

Researchers analyzed the Shearwaters' response to potential radionuclide exposure by comparing vitamin A levels between breeding colonies where adults foraged within and outside of the affected Fukushima zone.

Foraging seabirds excellent at spotting pollution

Reduced vitamin A levels are a good indicator of radionuclide contamination, scientists say. Exposure to radiation reduces levels of antioxidants such as carotenoids and vitamins A and E in individuals.

While the "taxa-specific" responses in marine animals, such as seabirds, are poorly understood, Shearwaters are ideal bio-indicators of pollution and contaminants in marine ecosystems because of their position as top predators, the study notes.

After laying their eggs, Shearwaters forage at sea near Mikura Island (MKR), a Japanese island located in the Philippine Sea, which lies within the Fukushima nuclear plume, an area polluted with radioactive waste. The birds' breeding colony on Birou Island (BRU) lies outside of the affected zone.

"We examined the physiological responses of Streaked Shearwater chicks at MKR and BRU to possible radiation exposure during the 2011 breeding season, four to seven months after the Fukushima nuclear accident," wrote the study's authors.

The population numbers of baby Shearwater chicks did not differ between MKR and BRU; however, baby chicks from MKR "displayed significantly reduced vitamin A levels," researchers say.

"Available information suggests these depletions most likely result from radiation exposure due to the Fukushima nuclear accident, implying that the risk of radionuclide contamination is considerably elevated for Streaked Shearwaters on MKR, where more than 60% of the world's population breeds."

Researchers stress that additional negative impacts are expected, as the delayed effects of radionuclides are transported via biomagnification into the food chain.

Biomagnification of a contaminant occurs through an ecological food chain by transfer of residues from the diet into body tissue, which increases at each trophic level in the food web.

The study highlights the "potential immediate and worrisome consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident for marine wildlife."

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