Nuke the environment

Crossroads-Baker nuclear test over Bikini Atoll (click for larger version)Surprising news from what’s left of the Bikini Atoll, in the south Pacific, where they used to stage nuclear explosions for the benefit of press photographers. Here’s New Scientist:

What does a coral reef look like 50 years after being nuked? Not so bad, it seems. Coconuts growing on Bikini Atoll haven’t fared so well, however.

Three islands of Bikini Atoll were vapourised by the Bravo hydrogen bomb in 1954, which shook islands 200 kilometres away. Instead of finding a bare underwater moonscape, ecologists who have dived it have given the 2-kilometre-wide crater a clean bill of health.

“It was fascinating – I’ve never seen corals growing like trees outside of the Marshall Islands,” says Zoe Richards of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia.

Richards and colleagues 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.

This mirrors a similar story a few years ago about the remarkable recovery in biodiversity in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, compared to regions outside it.

One doesn’t want to oversimplify a complex, non-linear system, or pretend that nuclear contamination isn’t a serious threat to life, property and the environment. However, such counter-intuitive findings do reinforce the point that nature is really a resilient, adaptible, stable system, and is surprisingly capable of recovering from or evolving through even major catastrophe. It isn’t the fragile, unstable and static system that is so often portrayed by environmental doomsayers and media sensationalists.

(Hat tip to Rich for forwarding the link.)