17 April 2008

You would think that after being vaporised in a nuclear blast the coral reefs of the Bikini Atoll would still be in a pretty bad shape. It would seem that they are doing quite well.

Three islands of Bikini Atoll were obliterated by the Bravo hydrogen bomb in 1954. Instead of finding a bare underwater moonscape, ecologists who have dived it have given the 2-kilometre-wide crater a clean bill of health. Researchers report a thriving ecosystem of 183 species of coral, some of which were 8 metres high. They estimate that the diversity of species represents about 65% of what was present before the atomic tests.

The ecologists think the nearby Rongelap Atoll is seeding the Bikini Atoll, and the lack of human disturbance is helping its recovery. Although the ambient radiation is low, people have remained at bay."Apart from occasional forays of illegal shark, tuna and Napoleon Wrasse fishing, the reef is almost completely undisturbed to this day," says Maria Beger of the University of Queensland. "There are very few local inhabitants and the divers who visit dive on shipwrecks, like the USS Saratoga, and not on the reef."

Radiation levels on the reefs are similar to that at any Australian city. But don’t eat the coconuts Because they accumulate radioactive material from the soil, they still send Geiger counters berserk.

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