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Chernobyl Is Now A Safe Haven For Wildlife

by Bharat Duggal
Chernobyl Is Now A Safe Haven For Wildlife

October 2, 2020

The night of 26 April 1986 marked one of the most devastating nuclear disasters in history as the Chernobyl nuclear power-plant exploded. In possibly one of the gigantic explosions in the erstwhile Soviet bloc.

The name Chernobyl brings a scene straight out of ‘A quiet place’ into our minds, as it symbolizes a post-apocalyptic world. In fact, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) has witnessed much worse days, but right now, it’s a 2800 km haven for flora and fauna.

The 2020 scenario is quite different.

Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl meltdown, the scientific community has not yet been able to provide a clear understanding of the spectrum of ecological effects created by that radiological disaster.

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) is no longer that mysterious, desolated land after the horrifying incident. Researchers have surprisingly found that it has transformed into a haven with different species and biodiversity thriving in the area.

The 2800 km expanse in northern Ukraine is now the third-largest natural reserve in mainland Europe as per a study by the UN Environment Programme. UNEP has been working with the Ukraine government and Global Environment Facility to support this renaissance since 2015.

Cases of mutant deformity in animals of the zone include partial albinism and other external malformations in swallows and insect mutations

Ecosystem in the CEZ

The Belarussian region of CEZ has witnessed an explosion of boar, elk, and roe deer populations between 1987 and 1996. Wolf numbers grew by 7x due to the much lesser hunting pressure in the excluded zone. And the ecosystem has continued to stay rich since then.

Camera trap surveys provided ample evidence that other animals like Eurasian lynx, black storks, brown bears, and European bison are also found in the region. Researches confirmed about 60 rare species of flora and fauna are present among the 100s that thrive here.

Like Sergiy Zibtsev, a forestry expert at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, it is ironic that it took a nuclear accident to form a richer ecosystem. The 1986 pine plantations gave way to biodiverse forests now, with better resilience for climate change.

A new study of children who were living near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor when it exploded in April 1986 or who were born in the area after the accident shows that newborn babies and those aged under 1 year were worst affected.

Can this happen in all Nuclear-contaminated sites? 

There is not much information to substantiate that the radioactivity can decay as fast as it did in Chernobyl’s case. Rewilding might happen with no human interaction, but the environment might not support it for a long time.

The Chernobyl rewilding experiment wasn’t planned initially, but it is as iconic as it is accidental. It shows nature’s power to rebound from degradation.

Establishment of the Global Environment Facility

UNEP and the Ukraine government initiated a project with the Global Environment Facility to develop policies that will help in reversing environmental degradation and prevent disasters. Launched in 2015, it has played a significant role in establishing a biosphere reserve Chernobyl.

It also focuses on Sustainable Development Goal 15, launched to bring the world’s notice towards managing forests sustainably, combating desertification, reversing land degradation, and halting biodiversity loss.

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