Expedition to the Southern Line Islands

Sequencing at Sea: Studying Small Things Using Big Equipment

"Barely a room onboard escaped being turned into a part of the sequencing laboratory," wrote Rob Edwards in a blog post about doing genomic sequencing at sea. Credit: Mark Vermeij Microbes are some of the most important organisms in the sea. These miniscule organisms provide an important link in the food web between the dissolved nutrients in the ocean and larger organisms like corals , fishes, and sharks . Without the microbes nothing would be able to use those nutrients, and the machinery of the ocean’s food web would grind to a halt. While microbes are very easy to collect—just scoop up a...Read more

Where the Shark and the Snapper Roam

Grey reef sharks are among the most versatile and tough predators on a Pacific coral reef, but they are also among the most vulnerable species, as they are threatened by wasteful fishing practices like shark finning. Credit: Mark J. A. Vermeij The pre-industrial American landscape was once rightly described as a place where “the deer and the antelope roam.” On land, we take it for granted that the plant-eating deer and antelope far outnumber the wolves and other predators that eat them. Over the years, when scientists saw many plant-eaters and small fish on coral reefs but relatively few...Read more
A dive safety officer keeps a close eye on divers from the surface.

Diving in the Middle of Nowhere

The dive safety officer, Christian McDonald, keeping a watchful eye on divers at the surface. Credit: Rob Edwards Picture this: clear, warm water bathing spectacular coral reefs , clouds of fish, circling sharks, and 17 scientists intent on studying the pristine tropical marine ecosystems of the Southern Line Islands . What could go wrong? That these ecosystems are, at best, nearly two days' transit from modern medical facilities—they sit roughly between Hawaii and Tahiti—may not weigh heavily on the minds of our scientists. But as the Diving Safety Officer for the Scripps Institution of...Read more

Coralline Algae: The Unsung Architects of Coral Reefs

Many species of pink coralline algae, which cements coral reefs together, cover a reef surface in the Southern Line Islands. Credit: Maggie D. Johnson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Stare at a tide pool and you will often see a crust of pink coating the bottom. No, this is not bubblegum from some careless teenager’s shoe: it’s a stony kind of seaweed that, like other seaweeds, harnesses energy from the sun through photosynthesis. It may not look like the kelps and other leafy seaweeds that we usually think of—but seaweeds, which are a type of algae, come in a wide variety of colors,...Read more