Marine Life

Pink crustose algae covers the surface of a rock.

Microbes Help Corals Pick a Home and Settle Down

Like pink paint, crustose coralline algae covers the surface of the rock in a thin layer. This hard surface is a preferred home for the larvae of coral and other invertebrates (such as abalone). Credit: Mandy Lindeberg, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC Bacteria are everywhere in the ocean. They live in the water, on virtually every living and non-living surface, and even inside other organisms . There are 1 million bacterial cells in every milliliter of seawater; that translates to roughly 5 million bacterial cells per teaspoon! With so many bacteria in the ocean you have to wonder—what are they doing? Thanks...Read more
This queen parrotfish scrapes algae from Caribbean reefs with its parrot-like beak.

From Despair to Repair: Protecting Parrotfish Can Help Bring Back Caribbean Coral Reefs

Sit down with two veteran marine scientists, Dr. Nancy Knowlton and Dr. Jeremy Jackson, who fell in love with each other and the reefs of the Caribbean 40 years ago. Those reefs are now gone due to overfishing, pollution and overpopulation. But is there hope for reversing the trend? Reef biologists over a certain age are haunted by memories of what glorious places Caribbean reefs once were. In our youth we studied them for all sorts of reasons but scarcely thought about reef conservation. We took the reefs for granted. Today, however, we know that most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear in...Read more
Small foram shells in seafloor sediment.

Little Critters that tell a BIG Story: Benthic Foraminifera and the Gulf Oil Spill

You are not alone if you don’t know what forams (short for foraminifera) are, so let’s start with the basics. Simply put, forams are single-celled organisms related to the familiar amoeba that produce a hard shell. These shells look like the shells you might pick up on the beach, but they are much smaller—most are between 0.05 and 0.5 mm (about the size of a pencil tip). Forams are important organisms in their own right. They eat decomposing plants and animals, turning them into useful minerals. Forams are also a source of food for many worms, crustaceans, snails, echinoderms (like sea...Read more

Shark Girl: Changing Shark Fear to Fascination

Madison Stewart, known to many simply as “shark girl,” is an inspiring young woman with a passion to protect the creatures most people fear: sharks. She’s been diving with sharks since the age of twelve. Here she is feeding a group of Caribbean reef sharks. Credit: Ernst Stewart As far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by sharks. My father introduced me to the ocean through books, documentaries and diving, and whenever we would see sharks on a dive in the Great Barrier Reef, it was always everyone's favorite part. There is pretty much no other animal in the ocean that...Read more
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 humpback whale breaching.

Bacteria on Whale Skin Tell a Tale of Health and Sickness

A humpback whale breaching. Credit: Wanetta Ayers Whales swimming in the ocean are never really alone. Even if one swims by itself with no other whales for miles around, it still has company—the tiny microbes that live on its skin. For a long time, these microbes went unnoticed or ignored. What scientists knew about skin microbes on whales was limited to studies on stranded or deceased animals, and virtually nothing was known about the microbes residing on healthy, free-ranging whales. But as links are now emerging between the microbiology of human skin and health , immunity and skin...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

Finding Mangroves In Unexpected Places

A newly established black mangrove sits in a field of salt marsh near the northern limit of mangroves in Florida. Mangroves have been expanding near their northern limit in Florida and the expansion is linked to a reduction in the frequency of extreme cold events along the Florida coastline. Credit: Kyle C. Cavanaugh Over the past several decades, Florida’s coastal wetlands have been changing. Along the eastern shore, researchers have seen small mangrove trees appearing in areas further north than they usually occur, in places that historically have been salt marsh. So why are these mangrove...Read more
A nudibranch showing a closeup of their fleshy, tentacle-like growths, called cerata.

How Sea Slugs Steal the Defenses of Their Prey

Many tentacle-like outgrowths, called cerata (singular: ceras), project off the back of this aeolid nudibranch. After the nudibranch eats the tentacles of a jellyfish, anemone, coral, or other stinging animal, the stolen stinging cells pass through the digestive gland, which is the grey section in each ceras. They wind up in the orange cnidosacs, where they are stored until they are needed for defense. Credit: Jessica Goodheart Not all slugs (snails without shells) are slimy brown pests found in your backyard garden. In the ocean they come in a huge variety of colors — some match the...Read more

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