20.7 C
Byron Shire
September 21, 2021

Snakes monitor radioactive contamination

Latest News

10pm Monday – update of COVID venues of concern

The Northern NSW Local Health District has been notified of a number of venues of concern associated with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region.

Other News

Excessive onanism

Former coroner David Heilpern’s confession last week that he mistakenly recorded a death as from ‘onanism’ rather than aneurism...

White poles

In amongst the various existential threats that we are confronted with today, we now have the white poles debacle...

Found – Have you seen Steve? Missing person

Mullumbimby man Steve Mustchin went missing at 11am this morning from Byron Bay Hospital and his family are asking locals to keep an eye out for him.

COVID update – sewage detection in East and South Lismore and Byron Bay

Northern NSW Local Health District is urging people in the Lismore City and Byron Bay areas to get tested for COVID-19, after fragments of the virus were detected in samples from the East Lismore, South Lismore and Byron Bay sewage treatment plants.

Strange strategy

The strategy applied by Byron Shire Council (BSC) since 2002 is bemusing at best. Firstly a position was created by...

The Greens and Ballina Council

With the Greens announcing their intention to contest the Ballina Shire local government election to be held in December...

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

A new COVID-19 case flies into the Far North Coast

The Northern NSW Local Health District has confirmed that there is a new case of COVID-19 in Northern NSW today, and they will be included in NSW Health’s official reporting tomorrow.

Found – Have you seen Steve? Missing person

Mullumbimby man Steve Mustchin went missing at 11am this morning from Byron Bay Hospital and his family are asking locals to keep an eye out for him.

Images released of men who robbed the Byron Bowlo

Detectives investigating the armed robbery of a licensed premises in Byron Bay earlier this year, have released CCTV images and are appealing for public information that may assist their inquiries.

New Nesbitt Park mountain bike skills course in Lismore

Though Lismore is currently in lockdown, the city has inaugurated a new sporting activity in Nesbitt Park that will make residents want to enjoy outdoors as soon as possible.