Half a century after the last earth-shattering atomic blast shook the Pacific atoll of Bikini, the corals are flourishing again. Some coral species, however, appear to be locally extinct.
These are the findings of a remarkable investigation by an international team of scientists from Australia, Germany, Italy, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. The expedition examined the diversity and abundance of marine life in the atoll.
One of the most interesting aspects is that the team dived into the vast Bravo Crater left in 1954 by the most powerful American atom bomb ever exploded (15 megatonnes - a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb). The Bravo bomb vapourised three islands, raised water temperatures to 55,000 degrees, shook islands 200 kilometers away and left a crater 2km wide and 73m deep.
After diving into the crater, Zoe Richards of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University says, I didnt know what to expect some kind of moonscape perhaps. But it was incredible, huge matrices of branching Porites coral (up to 8 meters high) had established, creating thriving coral reef habitat. Throughout other parts of the lagoon it was awesome to see coral cover as high as 80 per cent and large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks 30cm thick. It was fascinating Ive never seen corals growing like trees outside of the Marshall Islands.
The healthy condition of the coral at Bikini atoll today is proof of their resilience and ability to bounce back from massive disturbances, that is, if the reef is left undisturbed and there are healthy nearby reefs to source the recovery.
However the research has also revealed a disturbingly high level of loss of coral species from the atoll. Compared with a famous study made before the atomic tests were carried out, the team established that 42 species were missing compared to the early 1950s. At least 28 of these species loss
|Contact: Zoe Richards|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies