California Researchers Embark on "Kelp Watch 2014"

Experts say contamination levels won't be high enough to harm humans but can't say the same for the ecosystem kelp supports

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Scientists are gathering kelp from coastal waters to see what impact contamination from the Fukushima disaster in 2011 might have on Southern California. Hetty Chang spent the day at sea with Cal State Long Beach biology students for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on March 6, 2014. (Published Thursday, Mar 6, 2014)

    The conditions were next to perfect for a boat ride out past the breakwater off Alamitos Bay in Long Beach Thursday.

    NBC4 crews rode along with researchers from Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) as they embarked on what they're calling "Kelp Watch 2014" -- the first of its kind study to test kelp for contamination from radioactive ocean water from the damaged Fukushima power plant.

    The first of three sample collections scheduled for this year, coincidences almost to the day of the three-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast that sent radioactive material into the ocean.

    CSULB Professor Dr. Steven Manley said kelp's highly absorptive nature is ideal for his research.

    "It's the ability to absorb nutrients that's exploited because they also absorb the dissolved radio isotopes that will be coming this way," Manley said.

    Manley said he does not not believe the contamination levels expected in the kelp will be high enough to be harmful to humans, but he couldn't say the same for the ecosystem the kelp supports.

    "The levels we project we're going to see in kelp are going to be quite low," he said. "But the effects on simpler forms of wildlife we don't know. Whatever is in the kelp will get into the bodies of those animals also."

    About a mile and a half off the coast was where one of Manley's graduate students jumped off the boat to start collecting the kelp.

    They were expected to collect 14 pounds of kelp, which they would take back to their labs to be dried and ground, and eventually sent to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for testing.

    "If we do find something," Manley said. "It can serve as a warning that these materials that get released thousands of miles away can find a way across the oceans.

    Two more sample collections trips are scheduled for July and October this year. Results from Thursday's samples are expected to be ready in May.

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