The Ocean Blog

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

Thirty Days to Submission: How I Made a Video for Ocean180

Video of How a microscopic team alters the course of carbon in the Atlantic ocean How do you explain a scientific paper in three minutes or less? What if you were being judged by a bunch of middle-schoolers in classrooms around the world… and you only had a month to do it? The video above is what I came up with, with help from planetary scientist, science communicator, and science historian Meg Rosenburg . That music! That voice! Those… diatoms?? You might ask what we were thinking, making an epic film about microbes. The truth is, it was an experiment—an experiment that, thankfully, turned...Read more
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

History and Modern Science Collide for the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan

The Charles W. Morgan sailing en route to Newport on June 15, 2104. Credit: Courtesy of Mystic Seaport. Traveling aboard the Charles W. Morgan , a 173-year-old whaling ship on its 38th Voyage, I’m struck by its paradox: this vessel which spent years chasing and killing whales is now helping us to study these magnificent creatures. This summer's voyage is an unusual one. Along with the scientific research done onboard, I’m also coordinating a cohort of artists and scholars selected as 38th Voyagers, who will sail for a day out of Provincetown, Massachusetts into Stellwagen Bank National Marine...Read more

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

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 20 years if we don't restore the grazing fish that defend the corals from seaweed. This message comes through loud and clear in a new report, " Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 ," which was released today as the result of a three year joint effort of the Global...Read more
A diver collects water samples.

Ocean Sampling Day – Taking the Pulse of the World’s Oceans

Smithsonian scientist Chris Meyer is collecting water samples as part of the Pilot Ocean Sampling Day in 2013 on Moorea, French Polynesia. Credit: Gustav Paulay If you are a bird watcher you have probably heard of the Christmas Bird Count. The first one occurred on Christmas Day in 1900 at a variety of locations throughout North America, and it has since expanded to become the largest citizen science project in the world. Teams of volunteers go out and compile lists of all the birds spotted within a 15-mile (24 km) circle in many different places. The project has proven invaluable for keeping...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