The Ocean Blog

The Big Five of the Ocean: Exploring the Waters of East Africa

A whale shark swims with a diver off the coast of East Africa. Credit: Caine Delacy When we think "Africa," we think of the "Big Five"—lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos—that crisscross the African Savannah. Few would imagine that there could be more natural beauty on offer. But there is: underwater. The east coast of Africa holds a bounty of life that rivals the land. It is lined with coral reefs, majestic islands, and, under the surface, animals bigger than any of the "Big Five", and none of them are in game parks! This includes some of the biggest animals in the sea: whale...Read more

Behind the Photo: The Primal Ocean

Red Pigfish and Blue Mao-Mao school at the edge of a cavern in New Zealand's Poor Knights Islands. Read photographer Brian Skerry's story behind this photo . Credit: Brian Skerry, National Geographic A few years ago, I was in New Zealand photographing a story about the value of marine reserves (a type of marine protected area ). My last location was a place called the Poor Knights Islands , a spectacular group of small, rocky islands off the North Island of New Zealand, which had been fully protected as a no-take zone in the 1980’s. One afternoon I was invited to have tea with an old-time...Read more

40 Years of National Marine Sanctuaries

The National Marine Sanctuary system is a network of 13 marine protected areas managed by NOAA, in addition to the Papahānaumokuākea (Northwest Hawaiian Islands) Marine National Monument. Credit: NOAA, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries In 1872, the United States did something remarkable. We set aside one of our greatest natural treasures, Yellowstone National Park , for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. The logic was simple: this place is truly special, and we have a national responsibility to take care of it. Despite America’s history as a nation inexorably tied to the sea, it...Read more

The Great Barrier Reef – Going, Going, Gone???

Video of Storms, Starfish Wiped out Half of Great Barrier Reef Coral Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (or the GBR as it is known to reef aficionados) stretches for more than 2,300 kilometers (over 1,429 miles) and can be seen from outer space. This largest barrier reef in the world is both a national icon and a global treasure that was recognized as a World Heritage site over thirty years ago. Yet a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that large portions of the GBR have been on a trajectory of decline for much of this period. Between 1986 and...Read more

The Great Hermit Crab Migration

A Caribbean hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus) crawls on the forest floor. Credit: Flickr user Island Conservation Over the last few days, a video of hermit crabs stampeding across the rocky shores of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands has taken the internet by storm. Where are the hermit crabs going, and why? These hermit crabs are Coenobita clypeatus , the Caribbean hermit crab (also known as the soldier crab), which are native to islands throughout the Caribbean region. I typically think of hermit crabs as a marine phenomenon, but the adults of this species live in wet inland areas, hiding...Read more

Uncovering Biodiversity Before It Disappears

Editor's Note: See more information and details about the organisms displayed in the slideshow here . Researchers who come to Curaçao to take part in DROP ( Deep Reef Observation Project ) aren’t running on sleep; they’re running on passion, curiosity and a drive to not waste a moment of opportunity to explore. (And, yes, a fair bit of caffeine.) We are in as much an age of discovery as were Lewis and Clark , Alfred Russel Wallace or Austin Hobart Clark (whose travels on-board the Albatross in 1906 contributed to building NMNH's collections). But our current age of exploration is technology-...Read more

Uncovering Biodiversity… with ARMS and a Submarine Claw

The Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure was developed to help scientists study coral reef diversity and have now been adopted broadly to study diversity around the world. Credit: Laetitia Plaisance/CReefs, Census of Marine Life If there had been room to stand up, there would have been a standing ovation. As it was, the five of us on the submersible Curasub clapped and cheered when the first three deep-reef ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) were successfully deployed at approximately 396 feet (120 meters). ARMS are like condos for a reef’s “hidden biodiversity” -- the small...Read more

A Voyage of Discovery to Inner Space

The Mars rover Curiosity is sending images back home : glimpses of another world during a voyage of discovery. While Curiosity is clicking pictures millions of miles away, I am privileged to be taking part in my own voyage of discovery to the inner space of this planet. Without need of a spacesuit, I am clicking pictures off Curaçao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean. A submersible carries researchers to one of the least explored regions of the ocean: the deep reefs of the twilight zone, which in the clear waters off Curaçao extend to a depth close to 1000 feet. In this shadowy realm,...Read more

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

What We DON'T Know About the Deep Sea

Dive through the zones of the ocean to the deep ocean bottom where many strange species live, and there are many yet to be discovered. Explore them in the Deep Ocean Exploration section. Credit: Karen Carr / Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Sant Ocean Hall Imagine: You’re in a small submersible, and you gently settle on the soft muddy bottom at a depth of 12,000 feet. It’s absolutely dark. What will you see when the exterior lights are turned on? Will you discover underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents, as some astonished geologists did back in 1977? Not likely, but you...Read more

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