If you find that you’re digging yourself into a hole, the best thing to do is to stop digging, Aquarium of the Pacific President and CEO Dr. Jerry Schubel told a group of reporters this month gathered for a breakfast news briefing.
That same common sense theme, he argued, should apply to environmental issues such as overfishing, sea level rise, or the state drought, but he said that isn’t happening because too many people are still in doubt about what scientists are saying and what newspapers are reporting.
Schubel promised that the Aquarium of the Pacific would continue to try to inspire generations of ocean stewards and, whenever possible, serve as a place to debate and educate the public about science and the environment, particularly when it comes to controversial issues such as aquaculture, modified crops, desalination and more.
He hoped that journalists in attendance, as well as their readers and viewers, would try to prioritize science in an era where there’s so much freedom for people to learn when, where and what they want. He added that the aquarium “snookers” attendees into learning about something while they think they are just there to have fun and see marine life.
Along those lines, the Aquarium of the Pacific debuted a new show in collaboration with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Released on March 11 — the fourth anniversary of a massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in the Fukushima nuclear accident — the show highlights that incident’s impact on human and marine life.
“People want to know if they will be safe swimming or surfing in the Pacific Ocean, eating seafood, and consuming products from Japan,” Schubel said. “This new show addresses many of the public’s questions about radiation from Fukushima, relying on recent data collected by scientists, models of ocean currents and other information.”
The answer is that it is safe, as seen in a the show now playing daily in the Aquarium’s Ocean Science Center on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Science on a Sphere.
Schubel and Dr. Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole, said they wanted to provide the public with information about sources of radioactivity in the Pacific prior to, and now, after Fukushima. They noted that we already live in a radioactive world, with many natural and man-made sources around us every day.
With crowd-sourced research funding, Buesseler said there was widespread concern and support for his study of the impact of radiation in Japan as well as off the American coast.
What he and his team discovered was that 5,000 miles from the disaster, the incident has not created a health concern for humans or marine life off our coast.
“People worry about something they cannot taste or see or smell, and this was a big event for our ocean, but the radiation levels decreased quite quickly,” he explained, adding that traces of radioactivity from Fukushima have been detected on the California coast, but the amount is so small it is basically negligible.
In the weeks that followed the event, sea life in the area tested high for radiation exposure, closing fisheries in Japan that have yet to reopen today, and scientists are particularly interested in long-term impacts on bottom dwelling fish there. Still, Buesseler said radioactive isotope levels have dissipated quickly, and fish — such as blue fin tuna — that might swim between the coasts are free of contamination by the time they reach the U.S.
Buesseler’s research is available online at OurRadioactiveOcean.org.
Schubel noted that we live on a radioactive planet, and the message of the day was that people should enjoy it, educate themselves about it and take care of it.
“It was the largest accidental release of radiation into the ocean,” he said. “Yet, off our coast today, scientists have discovered that someone swimming every day for a year would be exposed to thousands of times less radiation than they would at a single dental visit for x-rays or an aircraft flight.”
For more details or tickets, visit www.aquariumofpacific.org or call (562) 590-3100.
Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.