Birds Are in a Tailspin Four Years After Fukushima

Like the proverbial canary in a coalmine, avian abundances may paint a grim picture of the effects of nuclear disasters on wildlife

birds in japanThe first time Tim Mousseau went to count birds in Fukushima, Japan, radiation levels in the regions he visited were as high as 1,000 times the normal background. It was July 2011, four months after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent partial meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the nation was still recovering from massive infrastructure damage. Still, when Mousseau and his research partner rented a car and drove up from Tokyo, they encountered little resistance on the road.

“I knew we had to get there and capture as best we could the early effects [of radioactive contamination] that nobody had really looked for,” he remembers thinking after seeing news of the Fukushima disaster. “Ultimately we realized that our best possible approach for that first year was simply to start doing bird counts.”

Now, after four years surveying bird populations in 400 sites around Fukushima-Daiichi, Mousseau and his team have assembled a grim portrait of the disaster’s impact on local wildlife, using bird populations as a model system. Even though radioactivity has dropped throughout the region, their data show that bird species and abundances are in sharp decline, and the situation is getting worse every year.

The first time Tim Mousseau went to count birds in Fukushima, Japan, radiation levels in the regions he visited were as high as 1,000 times the normal background. It was July 2011, four months after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent partial meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the nation was still recovering from massive infrastructure damage. Still, when Mousseau and his research partner rented a car and drove up from Tokyo, they encountered little resistance on the road. read more