Guest Blog Posts

Why the Littlest Fish Matter a Whole Lot

A tornado of sardines swirls around diver and photographer Erwin Poliakoff in the Philippines. Credit: Erwin Poliakoff Top predators along the California coast are having a rough year. Recently starving sea lions have showed up on California beaches and are clamoring for fish at the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River ; tens of thousands of dead Cassin’s Auklets have washed up on shores from Alaska to California. Although we cannot say precisely why these animals are having such a hard time finding food, we can point to a problem with their food source, forage fish. What exactly are forage fish...Read more

SCUBAnauts Splitting The Sign

Participants in the challenge must first set a compass bearing in the direction they are headed to properly navigate underwater. Credit: Courtesy SCUBAnauts International I am a member of SCUBAnauts International , an organization for young people passionately interested in the ocean. Of all my experiences as a SCUBAnaut, sharing my love of the ocean with wounded veterans really stands out. As we come up to Memorial Day, I wanted to share what this has meant for me. It was the summer of 2012, and salt water cascaded into my mouth as I emerged above the water's surface. Sputtering for a few...Read more

Bugs and Slugs: The Hidden Secret to Healthy Seagrasses

Neptune grass ( Posidonia oceanica ) is a slow-growing and long-lived seagrass native to the Mediterranean. Credit: Gaynor Rosier/Marine Photobank Slip into the water along a sheltered coast in nearly any part of the world and you’re likely to find yourself in an emerald field of seagrass . Like flowering plants on land, seagrasses grow, flower, and produce seeds—and they do it all underwater. Although they may lack the star power of coral reefs, seagrass meadows can be equally beautiful, teeming with a diversity of life, and are every bit as important as reefs. Seagrass meadows are nurseries...Read more
Tiny jellies in a petri dish.

Fishing for Plastic: Science in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By now, you have probably heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch . The name conjures the image of a floating island made of familiar plastic trash such as soda bottles and plastic bags, disposable utensils and lighters. However, this image doesn’t really capture the full spectrum of plastic debris that is out there. While some of the plastic pieces swirling in the Pacific Ocean are large, many of them are closer to the size of a popcorn kernel—and certainly small enough for fish to eat, at least in theory. While we have lots of evidence that sea turtles , seabirds , and marine mammals eat...Read more
A diver clears the bottom of a cargo ship of specimens.

Unearthing Information About Invasives From the Bottom of a Cargo Ship

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) ecologist, Ian Davidson, is under the belly of a cargo ship collecting specimens. Credit: Laurie Penland, Smithsonian I am once again leaving my familiar world behind and descending into the abyss below. The first dive of an entirely new expedition is the most magical. I am a member of a scientific research dive team studying biological invasions in coastal marine ecosystems off the coast of Bermuda for the Smithsonian Marine Invasions Research Lab . As I sink beneath the belly of a massive cargo ship, I glide my hand down the side of the...Read more

Underwater Parks in 3-D

One of several rowboats that were sunk in front of Lake Hotel at Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park in the early 20th century. Credit: Yasmeen Smiley As I readied myself and my camera for a dive in Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, I thought I was on top of my game. I had recently specialized in underwater photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and had most photographic techniques figured out. I knew enough to wear several layers of thermals under my drysuit to withstand frigid water temperatures of 38° F. Yet I was in for a...Read more

Exploring a Unique Biodiversity Hotspot In the Gulf of Maine

Cashes Ledge is a wild, special place in the heart of the Gulf of Maine. This underwater mountain range is home to a great diversity of life, with colors typically associated with a coral reef rather than a cold, northern environment. Its steep peaks reach almost to the ocean’s surface—a fact that historically made Cashes Ledge a dangerous place for fishermen, who could easily snag and rip or lose their nets on the jagged underwater mountaintops. As a result, the thriving ecosystems on the Ledge have been relatively undisturbed by people for centuries. To promote the rebuilding of New England...Read more
School of blue rockfish in a kelp bed.

Stinkin' Seaweed Makes Tasty Food for Coastal Animals

School of Blue Rockfish ( Sebastes mystinus ) in a kelp bed consisting mostly of the bull kelp ( Nereocystis luetkeana ). Credit: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS Most people try to avoid rotting kelp at the beach. The feeling of a floating piece of seaweed wrapping around an ankle is enough to shake even the most steeled swimmer, and then there's the strong smell! But in our research group, we go out of our way to find rotting seaweed at the shore so that we can study how kelp tissues change as they die and decompose. While this may seem like an odd thing to care about, detached and decomposing...Read more
The coastline of American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary

The Reefs of American Samoa: A Story of Hope

American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary comprises a fringing coral reef ecosystem nestled within an eroded volcanic crater on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa. Credit: Wendy Cover Sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are incredibly diverse and complicated systems. Because of this complexity, it can be a challenge to manage and protect reefs—and sometimes multiple threats must be addressed in quick succession. Overfishing, pollution and coral predators all have negative impacts on coral and the many animals that live on the reef. But with vigilant protection and...Read more

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

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