Fukushima ‘returning to nature’, says volunteer

Image copyright AFP Image caption Gao Imo started volunteering at the site at Fukushima in 2009

There are signs that nature has returned to parts of Fukushima after a catastrophic meltdown, according to volunteers.

Wildlife has returned to affected areas including rivers and streams and fish are being caught again.

“There is clearly life here,” said Gao Imo, a volunteer for eight years in northern Fukushima.

“After the earthquake and tsunami, people had a negative attitude towards nature, but they are trying to change that. There is now a sentiment that nature can help us.”

Residents of Fukushima have struggled to rebuild since the 2011 quake and tsunami that devastated much of the north-east coast.

Residents of Fukushima have struggled to rebuild since the 2011 quake and tsunami that devastated much of the north-east coast

More than 16,000 people were killed or died from their injuries and up to 15,000 homes were wrecked by the disaster.

Government records show that animals were also affected by the tsunami, with more than 15,000 are killed or missing.

The Fukushima Restoration Foundation helped more than 2,000 animals – including some that had become radioactive after being hit by radiation – into aquariums and other spaces around the region.

Since 2013, the foundation has provided food and vaccinations for 120 species of birds, more than 600 species of fish and more than 120 species of reptiles.

Ms Imo, who started volunteering in 2009, said things had started to change around her community.

“There were lots of bird carcasses everywhere and poisonous water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Now people are very grateful for the donation, they thank us and they are very grateful for everything.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption After the catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant people in Fukushima were reluctant to care for the environment

Once run by the government, the Fukushima Restoration Foundation now works with local authorities and businesses and says it has the backing of various organisations.

In December 2018, Japan’s Environment Ministry approved a plan to create a restored landmass of 20,000 hectares, giving it the title of “Fukushima Natural Landscape Park”.

One concern is that the area that was never reconnected to the country after the disaster.

Image copyright AFP Image caption A 2012 report found that up to 50,000 animals were killed or missing after being hit by the tsunami

The Japan Conservation Association says this area could be another safe haven for wildlife and say that for a long time people rejected nature.

“We have not been able to make a success in such a short time because there were people who were basically turned away from nature, who were turned away from eco-volunteering,” said Toshimasa Yano, a field survey and education specialist with the group.

Mr Yano says in the first year of the restoration, people abandoned the work after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was brought back online.

“It wasn’t nice for the community when they saw that animals had been killed,” he said.

“It was in those situations we had seen that there was a fair chance of doing good. It was when people were not willing to accept the disasters and humans were not willing to be involved in the environment, the communities turned their backs.”

A poll of volunteers by public broadcaster NHK earlier this year revealed a change in attitudes as more and more volunteers have committed to the project.

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