Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Scientists find corals flourishing on Bikini Atoll

A mushroom cloud rises after the detonation of the 11-megaton nuclear device bomb 'Romeo' over Bikini Atoll in March 1954.

SOME corals are again flourishing on Bikini Atoll, the Pacific site of the largest American atom bomb ever exploded, but other species have disappeared.

A team of international scientists, including Australians, recently dived on the atoll, more than half a century after the stunning blast, to examine its marine life.

Zoe Richards from Queensland's James Cook University, along with other scientists from Germany, Italy, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands, said the team had dived into the vast Bravo Crater left by the 1954 atom bomb.

The 15 mega-tonne bomb was a thousand times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima in Japan in WWII.

It vapourised three islands, raised water temperatures to 55,000 degrees, shook islands 200km away and left a crater 2km wide and 73m deep.

Ms Richards said she did not know what to expect when she dived on the crater but was surprised to find huge matrices of branching Porites coral - up to eight metres 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 - I've never seen corals growing like trees outside of the Marshall Islands.''

The healthy condition of the coral at Bikini today was proof of the atoll's resilience and ability to bounce back from massive disturbances if the reef was left undisturbed and there were healthy nearby reefs to source the recovery.''

But Ms Richards said the research 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 losses appear to be genuine local extinctions probably due to the 23 bombs that were exploded there from 1946-58, or the resulting radioactivity, increased nutrient levels and smothering from fine sediments.''

The coral survey was carried out at the request of the atoll's local government.

For comparison the team also dived on neighbouring Rongelap Atoll, where no atomic tests were carried out directly although the atoll was contaminated by radioactive ash from the Bravo Bomb.

Local inhabitants were also evacuated and, for the most part, have not returned.

The marine environment at this atoll was found to be in a pristine condition.

"The team thinks that Rongelap Atoll is potentially seeding Bikini's recovery because it is the second-largest atoll in the world with a huge amount of coral reef diversity and biomass and lies upstream from Bikini,'' Ms Richards said.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Swim star Nick D'Arcy 'drunkenly big-noting himself'

By Ben English, Jim Wilson and Rebecca Williams

MOMENTS before allegedly launching the king-hit that is likely to end his Olympic dream, it is claimed swim star Nick D'Arcy was drunkenly big-noting himself at a Sydney nightclub.

Fuelled by up to 12 drinks, D'Arcy allegedly reacted with a single blow when former swim champ Simon Cowley told him to tone down his bragging.

The blow floored Cowley, leaving the 27 year old with a broken jaw and nose, a fractured eye socket and palate, and a crushed cheekbone.
Related story Perkins says bar D'Arcy from Beijing

Yesterday, Cowley told from his hospital bed in Sydney of his shock at being smashed in the face while celebrating the announcement of the Australian Olympic swim team.

"I'm feeling pretty ordinary, as you can see," he said.

"I haven't spoken to the police yet so I don't really want to talk about what happened between us."

Asked if he knew D'Arcy, Cowley said: "I've never met him. My main priority right now is to get better."

Cowley, who returned to St George Hospital yesterday, will undergo major surgery on Thursday. He faces the prospect of losing his teeth.

Police have charged D'Arcy, 20, with assault and grievous bodily harm - which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail.

Yesterday, the national butterfly record holder was granted conditional bail and ordered to appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on April 21.

The incident happened at Sydney's King St wharf area about 2.30am on Sunday.

Cowley and world record holder Eamon Sullivan had joined swimming great Ian Thorpe at the Loft bar late on Saturday night. Thorpe was a training partner of Cowley's.

"Everyone was in great spirits but D'Arcy was creating problems before the incident took place," a source said. "He was acting like a goose and mouthing off, and it was becoming a bit full-on."

It is understood Thorpe left the bar about 12.30am but Cowley, Sullivan and D'Arcy decided to stay on.

Witnesses said D'Arcy began bragging about the credentials of the team - and himself in particular.

"It would be fair to say Nick was going down hill and was mouthing off at a few people and just being a smart a*** basically," a witness said.

It is claimed Cowley told D'Arcy to tone down his behaviour and gave him a gentle slap on his face. It was claimed D'Arcy struck back with his elbow, leaving Cowley bleeding on the floor.

It is understood D'Arcy intends to fight the charges.

D'Arcy's position on the Australian Olympic swimming team will now be decided by the Australian Olympic Committee.

But last night there was increasing speculation his Olympic campaign was over.

"It would be fair to say he's in a lot of trouble and I think he'll struggle to get to the Games," an official said.

Swim legend Dawn Fraser said D'Arcy would have to live with the incident.

"I feel sorry for him, he's always going to be known as the brawler now, and it's something he's got to deal with," she said.

Swimming Australia chief executive Glenn Tasker said he was extremely disappointed a member of the national team had put himself in such a situation.

D'Arcy earned a trip to Beijing when he won the 200m butterfly in a Commonwealth record time at the Games selection trials last week.

His mother, Susan, last night said her son was struggling to cope. "He's not real well, he stayed in his room yesterday and wouldn't eat or drink, he wouldn't come out and we started getting worried about him."

She said husband Justin had flown from the Gold Coast to be with their son in Sydney.

Mrs D'Arcy said the alleged attack was out of character for her son.