18.3 C
Byron Shire
September 27, 2022

Snakes monitor radioactive contamination

Latest News

This league of pets are super

The best things about the school holidays are the awesome films created for kids, and a great film for...

Other News

Police appeal for information after serious crash

Police are appealing for information after a man was seriously injured in a two-vehicle crash near Murwillumbah.

Mangroves keep carbon in the soil for 5,000 years

Marine forests are great long-term carbon sinks. In fact, according to new research on a Mexican mangrove forest, they can keep carbon out of the atmosphere for millennia.

Koala stranded

The plight of koalas was demonstrated very well this week with a koala found dangerously stranded in the main...

Santos’ approval to drill for gas north of the Tiwi Islands invalid

In a landmark decision, the Federal Court of Australia has invalidated Santos’ approval to drill for gas in the sea north of the Tiwi Islands.

Jarjums empowered to speak up with rapper JK-47

This year’s ‘Muggi (strong) Culture, Deadly Futures’ program focussed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait jarjums, from kindy to year 12, engaging with cultural knowledge and skills ad empowering and motivating jarjums to speak up.

West Byron flooding

All east coast communities are now daily regularly warned by the ABC radio/TV, by the Bureau of Meteorology, to...

Brought to you by The Echo and Cosmos Magazine


A Japanese rat snake is fit with a GPS transmitter that will allow researchers to track its
movements over the next several weeks. Photo Hannah Gerke

Japanese rat snakes used to measure radioactivity in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.

You might be familiar with the concept of canaries in a coal mine, but have you heard of snakes in a radioactive zone?

Ten years on from the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan – the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl – researchers are still investigating the ecological impacts on the landscape. Now, a study led by the University of Georgia in the US has measured radioactive contamination in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone – using snakes.

Over three months, the researchers used tiny GPS transmitters taped to the backs of Japanese rat snakes to monitor their movement across the rugged terrain of the Abukuma Highlands, about 25 kilometres northwest of the power plant. They also used manual VHF tracking to locate the snakes every few days and identify the habitat in which they were located – from grasslands to riversides to buildings.

‘Our results indicate that animal behaviour has a large impact on radiation exposure and contaminant accumulation,’ says Hannah Gerke, lead author on the study, from the University of Georgia.

A Japanese rat snake is fit with a GPS transmitter that will allow researchers to track its movements over the next several weeks. Credit: Hannah Gerke

‘Studying how specific animals use contaminated landscapes helps increase our understanding of the environmental impacts of huge nuclear accidents such as Fukushima and Chernobyl.’

The study, published in the journal Ichthyology & Herpetology, found that snakes are even better bioindicators of residual radioactivity than more mobile species such as songbirds, East Asian raccoon dogs and wild boar.

‘Snakes are good indicators of environmental contamination because they spend a lot of time in and on soil,’ says co-author James Beasley, also from the University of Georgia.

‘They have small home ranges and are major predators in most ecosystems, and they’re often relatively long-lived species.’

The rat snakes were found to move an average of 65 metres per day.

More than half of the tracked snakes hung out in buildings such as abandoned barns and sheds, which may have helped shield them from contaminated soil, but in winter, when they shelter underground, their risk of exposure is increased.

This work builds on a 2020 study, also led by Gerke, that captured snakes and measured their levels of radiocesium, a common radionuclide that accumulates in the bodies of animals, especially predators. The study found that these levels correlated to the radiation levels in the soil where the snakes were captured, raising the possibility of using snakes as biomarkers to determine differing levels of contamination across uneven terrain. This new work adds in information about the snakes’ movement and habitat use, clarifying the link between these and contaminant exposure.

The new study was also part of a larger one tracking animal behaviour and radiation exposure within the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Last year, a research team led by Beasley captured footage of more than 20 species within the zone, showing that it still contains abundant wildlife – although presence is not an indicator of an animal’s health.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Venice: Infinitely Avante-Garde

Come on your own Grand Tour of Venice next Wednesday at Byron Theatre. Explore the historic city and its openness to the world, and...

Byron Music Society’s Big Sing

Byron Music Society presents ‘A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms’ (Ein Deutsches Requiem), recognised as one of the greatest choral works ever written, at...

Wahlburgers in Byron

Walking into Wahlburgers on Sunday arvo, the sun was shining, the staff were smiling, there was a nice vibe and from our table we...

Caper Byron – it’s going to be food bliss!

Caper Byron Bay; Our Food and Culture Festival has launched their first program, inclusive of more than 30 diverse events and experiences.  Across a four-day...