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Researchers to monitor kelp forests off San Diego for Fukushima radiation

Researchers from various institutions, including San Diego State University, will be testing the kelp that grows off the California coast for signs of Fukushima radiation. 19 academic and governmental institutions, as well as three private businesses, will begin their sampling in the middle of February. Some of the areas to be sampled may include the kelp forest off the coast of Point Loma and Ocean Beach and also in Baja California.

Kelp forest off of Anacapa Island
Kelp forest off of Anacapa IslandNOAA National Ocean Service http://www.flickr.com/people/usoceangov/

“I receive calls and emails weekly from concerned visitors and Californians about the effect of the Fukushima disaster on our California marine life,” says Cal State Long Beach biology professor, Steven L. Manley, said in a press release. It was these concerns and reports of radiation being found in the environment, is what prompted the state wide testing.

San Diego State University has special kelp-grinding equipment that is able to grind kelp into a fine powder which can be analyzed. Researchers are looking for specific radioactive isotopes that don’t usually occur in natural settings. The sampling will be done every three months for about a year. Plants such as kelp are often a good barometer for the overall health of the ocean. They absorb and concentrate certain contaminants. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, biologist Matt Edwards says that he doesn't know if the tests will pick up any radiation and he doesn't believe there will be a health threat even if radiation is detected.

As soon as the tests and completed and data made available, the results will be made public. “Making our results available is a critical aspect of our work as it allows us to address concerns about Fukushima radiation levels and to explain the meaning and potential impact of these levels,” according to Dr. Kai Vetter, a professor in nuclear engineering at University of California at Berkeley and partner with the research.

The project is still looking individual, institutional or corporate volunteers to help with collecting, processing, or analysis. Already, more institutions have requested to be added including places in Alaska and Hawaii. Contact Steven L. Manley at steven.manley@csulb.edu if you or your institution would like to participate. For more information about the program, see Kelp Watch 2014.