Climate Change

A juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtle emerges from the nest

Taking the Temperature of the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Kemp's ridley sea turtles ( Lepidochelys kempii ) often emerge from their nests during the day, which is a rare (and dangerous) thing for sea turtle hatchlings! Credit: Terry Ross ( Flickr ) The Kemp’s ridley is a “riddler” among sea turtles . Although the species was initially recognized in 1880, scientists didn't know where it nested until 80 years later, when a film documenting about 40,000 Kemp’s ridley turtles nesting on a single day in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico was discovered. These massive, simultaneous nesting events or “arribadas” (meaning “arrival by sea” in Spanish) are spectacular to...Read more

Penguin Health Equals Ocean Health

Magellanic penguin parents typically lay two eggs under a bush or in a burrow, taking turns swimming out to sea to catch food for their chicks. Credit: Dietmar Temps ( Flickr ) It’s hard not to identify with penguins as they waddle about upright on land, clad in their tuxedo-like plumage. In their crowded breeding colonies, they squabble with and show off to their neighbors, sometimes resorting to petty theft. One can almost imagine joining the end of the queue when they follow one another in single file along icy paths, sometimes slipping or body sledding along the way . Penguins do far more...Read more
A walrus sits on top of ice.

The Cultural Icescapes of the Arctic

The Inupiaq people of Alaska have more than 100 words for different kinds of sea ice, illustrated here. A female walrus and her calf ( isavgalik ) rest on ice ( nunavait ) in the midst of scattered pack ice ( tamalaaniqtuaq ), interspersed with patches of calm flat water ( quuniq ). The mass of floating pack ice ( sigu ) consists of various types of ice, such as large floes ( puktaaq ), vertical blocks of ice ( puikaaniq ), ice floes with overhanging shelves ( quaŋiłlaq ), large pieces of darker ice ( taagluk ), and small floating pieces of dirt ice ( saŋałait ). Credit: The Wales Inupiaq Sea...Read more
A puffin with a mouthful of fish.

Watching for Fish in the Puffin's Beak

Atlantic puffins have spiny tongues that, pressed against the roof of their mouths, help to hold ten or more small forage fish at once without losing any along the way. Credit: Steve Garvie, Flickr In recent years, I have taken to watching flying fish along the Maine coast. Not the usual flying fish that skim over tropical seas, but fish dangling from the beaks of flying puffins. Puffins are famous for loading their colorful beaks with a dozen or more fish and winging home to feed their solitary, ravenous chick. In the late 19th century, spotting such overladen beaks was rare, as hunting for...Read more

Ice-Loving Seals and the Loss of Sea Ice

In 2011, storms and lack of ice-cover due to a warmer winter climate resulted in hundreds of seal pups being washed up on the shore of Prince Edward Island. Like many, this young seal faced an uncertain future. <a href="/ocean-views-2012-contest-winners">See more Nature's Best Photos</a>. Credit: John Sylvester/Nature's Best Photography The threat that climate change poses to polar bears has received a lot of attention, but they are not the only Arctic species at risk. Ice-loving seals, such as harp, hooded and ringed seals, are among the many species threatened by climate change...Read more

Ocean Acidification Excites Boring Sponges

This orange boring sponge ( Cliona varians ) overgrows several coral species at Panama's Smithsonian Tropical Studies Institute. Credit: Amber Stubler Boring sponges get a bad rap. Their own name betrays them, announcing to the world that they are unexciting, ordinary and quite frankly, boring. However, if ever a misnomer existed, this is it. More flatteringly referred to as excavating or bioeroding sponges, these animals play the important yet thankless role of breaking down and recycling calcium carbonate (the main component of eggshells, corals and shelled marine organisms). Using a...Read more
Where the pH is the lowest, corals can no longer grow - sand, rubble and seagrasses replace the reef.

Sneak Peek: Future of Coral Reefs in an Acidifying Ocean

Scientists don’t often get the opportunity to travel through time. But nestled among the beautiful coral reefs of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a place that provides a glimpse today of what could be the biggest future threat to coral reef survival: ocean acidification . Ocean acidification is occurring because the ocean has absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels . That carbon is changing the chemistry of the ocean, making seawater more acidic. Reef biologists expect this to be a bigger and bigger problem as more and more...Read more
A photo of an oyster cage, out of the water, covered in sea squirts.

Alaska Vulnerable to Invasive Species from Warmer Waters

Invasive species can have a range of environmental and economic impacts. In this photo, sea squirts foul an oyster cage. Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's Marine Invasions Lab study the movement and effects of non-native species around the globe. Credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada Alaska’s pristine coastline is ripe for an influx of invasive marine species such as the European green crab and the rough periwinkle (an Atlantic sea snail), warns a new study by a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center . To date only 15 non-native species...Read more
Overfishing is leading to an abundance of less desirable species like jellyfish.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish

With more desirable species being fished out and jellyfish blooming, will jellyfish sandwiches soon be on the menu? Credit: David Beck / Jennifer Jacquet All over the world, people have been witnessing gigantic blooms of tens of thousands of jellyfish where once there were only a few. Fishers find them clogging their nets and costing them dearly. In Japan, giant jellyfish capable of reaching six feet across even capsized a boat that tried to bring them aboard. Where are these stinging menaces coming from and why are they everywhere? Jellyfish explosions are often triggered by overfishing of...Read more
Coral Spawning by Moonlight

A Tale of Sex and Stress in the Ocean

A coral has just spawned. Each of the hundreds of polyps releases a small pink bundle of sperm and eggs. Credit: Raphael Williams Welcome to Citizens of the Sea , a new blog series where ocean life comes to life. Our book by the same name came out in September, but no sooner had it gone off to the printer than new ocean stories started streaming in. So every other week, we’ll use this series to explore some interesting aspect of marine life forms and their weird and wonderful ways of getting by. We’d like to start with a personal story about the reefs of Panama near the Smithsonian Tropical...Read more