A team of scientists are documenting what’s known as the lost treasure of Northeast Japan in order to prevent the mass extinction of wildlife around Fukushima.
Max Hartmann, an evolutionary biologist from the University of New Brunswick, has been conducting research of a wrecked subsea turbine house off the coast of Fukushima that once provided electricity to millions of people in the area. He will present his findings at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco this week.
The researchers have been gathering information on nature that is normally only available to scientists with powerful instrumentation.
“In the last 50 years, the instrumentation has been very few and far between, so the ability of scientists to study what the natural world might be like without getting into such instrumentation was completely lacking,” Hartmann told Live Science.
Hartmann has been documenting one of the most densely populated regions in the world, searching for well-preserved marine life — he’s amassed impressive results, including documenting something he describes as a “long, skinny slot thrush” that is “about as small as a goldfish.”
“What we discovered, was there really were actually that many fly larvae living in there — half a trillion fly larvae,” he said. “The amount of energy they could use before they die was incredible.”
After the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, a tsunami washed away the area’s fish and its fruit trees, which went from abundant to abundant in a matter of weeks. Some were never seen again.
Life has returned to some areas, but it’s unclear how long it will last — the plant was shut down for safety measures back in 2012 and the closest nuclear reactor has been shuttered since last year.
There’s also the possibility that animals exposed to the radiation will start to take the same route, recovering from their unexpected hyper-vigilance, Hartmann said.
“I think nature will slowly, as we all experience it, adapt to the higher level of environmental risk that’s there,” he said.
In a paper published last year, Hartmann said he worries that a lack of knowledge about the natural world could be in danger if humanity’s natural resources become scarce.
“We could lose that critical social and cultural capital of natural knowledge in the race to replace fossil fuels,” he wrote.
He also pointed out that in the 1880s, a man named Mark Twain experienced a similar problem, writing about how humans were learning to fight among themselves.
“His article illustrates that when we lose a natural resource — or our race — it is very difficult to ever recapture it again because we’ve lost that psychological link,” Hartmann said.