Kelp Watch 2014: Cal State Long Beach Marine Biologists Look at Effects of Fukushima Fallout

By Dulaney, Josh | Pasadena Star-News, March 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

Kelp Watch 2014: Cal State Long Beach Marine Biologists Look at Effects of Fukushima Fallout


Dulaney, Josh, Pasadena Star-News


LONG BEACH » Researchers from Cal State Long Beach on Thursday gathered their first samples of kelp during a 90-minute excursion past Long Beach's breakwater to study the impact of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

Steven L. Manley, a biology professor at CSULB, along with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is leading "Kelp Watch 2014," a project with more than 50 researchers and organizations along the West Coast who are studying effects on the kelp forest three years after a 9.0 earthquake, followed by a tsunami, struck Japan and caused three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima plant.

"Kelp Watch 2014 is a scientific campaign designed to use our coastal kelp beds as detectors for radioactive material that's coming from Fukushima in the seawater," Manley said. "The traveling time is a very long time because the sea currents are very slow, so even though the initial release was March 11, 2011, it's only now that they're approaching our shoreline."

Manley said to his knowledge, this is the first such effort off the West Coast.

The sampling of about 25 pounds of kelp, gathered past the break wall off Long Beach, was one of more than 40 kelp collections by the Kelp Watch 2014 team over the last two weeks, from Zodiac Island, Alaska, to Baja California, ahead of the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast.

Researchers have predicted that radioactive contamination from Fukushima will reach the West Coast in the middle of this year. Two other sampling periods are scheduled for July and October. Using this month's sampling as a baseline, researchers want to discover whether there is any buildup of contaminants as the year progresses.

Results from the current sampling are expected to be released in May.

Manley, an expert in marine algae and kelp who earned his doctorate in biology from UCLA and was a research fellow in the laboratory of the late Wheeler J. North at Caltech's Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory in Corona del Mar, on Thursday led biology graduate students Dan Crear and Connor White on the 90-minute trip off the coast of Long Beach.

Manley discussed the importance of kelp as a productive and complex ecosystem that directly affects more than 1,000 organisms, while Crear and White, in a second boat, gathered samples, with White diving into the water several times for kelp and Crear bringing it to Manley's boat.

Kelp absorbs materials out of the water through rod blades that act as sponges, efficiently concentrating salts and other materials, including radio isotopes. …

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