The Ocean Blog

12,000 Miles to Go: Migrating with Shearwaters

Oceanic birds are a rare treat to see because these birds are not casual visitors to our coastline—to see them you normally have to get on a boat. So late last spring I was amazed to find hundreds of shearwaters stranded on the beach along the Atlantic coast of Florida. Shearwaters are oceanic birds related to albatrosses that spend most of their lives at sea, normally coming to land only to breed. In talking with locals, I learned that the strandings happen when strong winds blow out of the East. Weak from their long migrations, these birds had the bad luck to encounter strong winds as they...Read more

The “Plastisphere:" A new marine ecosystem

Tiny bits and pieces of plastic can be found throughout the ocean, like these collected from the open ocean by net. Credit: Courtesy of Erik Zettler Any floating object in the ocean tends to attract life; fishermen know this and deploy floating buoys to concentrate fish for harvesting. Plastic marine debris is no different and, at microscopic scales, microbes such as bacteria, algae and other single-celled organisms gather around and colonize plastic and other objects floating in water. Even small pieces of plastic marine debris the size of your pinky nail can act as microbe aggregating...Read more
Sunset over Boston Harbor

Signs of a Recovering Harbor

A sunset over Boston Harbor. Credit: Chesser1023 For more than two centuries, Boston Harbor has been a dumping ground. In 1773, colonists famously dumped shiploads of tea to protest taxes. But in recent decades, the harbor has received less tea and more sewage. In the 1970s, 43 communities sent their wastewater to Boston where it was barely treated before its release into the harbor. The harbor's pollution was so severe that local newspapers dubbed it “The Harbor of Shame” in the 1980s! But nowadays, after almost 25 years of intensive work by government and local organizations, sewage is no...Read more

Ribbon Worm Redux

The ribbon worm seen here, Ramphogordius sanguineus , is known to regenerate after losing a part of its body. Credit: Eduardo Zattara Even on an early winter morning, it was sunny and warm in southern Florida. This was great because, regardless of the weather, Dr. Jon Norenburg and I were going to walk chest-deep into the water to scrape off animals encrusting some pier pilings near Miami Beach. Composed mostly of barnacles, sponges and sea squirts, this crust also harbors our quarry: intertidal ribbon worms , or nemerteans. We were looking for them to study their ability to regenerate...Read more

Helpful Herbivores

Convict surgeonfish are the roaming sheep of the reef but, instead of noshing on grass, they feed on algae. Credit: Michael Webster When snorkeling in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA) in West Maui, I keep an eye out for certain kinds of fish. Not the brightest or the biggest, but those herbivores such as uhu (parrotfish), lau'ipala (yellow tang), or na'ena'e (orangeband surgeonfish) that mow algae. These fish can tell me whether a unique experiment in coral reef management that has the potential to restore ecological resilience —the ability for an ecosystem to rebound...Read more

Celebrating World Oceans Day

The ocean plays an important role in our everyday lives—whether you live near the coast or not. Credit: Dennis Frates/Nature's Best Photography Those of us who can't see the ocean from our window might feel disconnected from the life there. It might seem that, because the ocean feels far away, its problems will only harm those people that fish or make their living directly from the sea. But this isn’t true: the sea is far more important than that. It's easy to forget the critical role the ocean plays in human life. The salty water of the ocean covers more than 70 percent of the Earth's...Read more

4,000 Years of Marine History through the Eyes of a Seabird

A Hawaiian petrel flies over part of its North Pacific feeding grounds. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jim Denny Most people have never heard of the Hawaiian petrel , an endangered, crow-sized seabird that spends the majority of its life searching for food over the North Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, this bird is no stranger to human influence, and it has a stern lesson to teach us about the history of the open ocean. When it comes to what marine predators can find to eat, humans are changing things, and fast. My colleagues and I have spent a number of years studying the history of this amazing...Read more

Salmon Recycling: Waste Not, Want Not

A pipe on the seaflood discharges fish waste, such as bones and scraps, from processing factories that turn whole caught fish into filets that you buy in the supermarket. Credit: Bruce Duncan, USEPA As a research diver for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of my jobs is to make sure that people and companies working in the fish industry don’t dump too much waste in the ocean. On my first dive at an underwater waste site, my old salt of a dive partner hinted, “you might see a shark… or three” with a wink. “Okay,” I thought, “I can deal with a couple of sharks.” Descending to...Read more
Two nautiluses in the open ocean off the coast of Palau.

Virtual Book Reading with Daniel Botkin

Two nautiluses ( Nautilus belauensis ) off the coast of Palau. Credit: Flickr user wildestanimal Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Daniel Botkin's new book The Moon in the Nautilus Shell: Discordant Harmonies Reconsidered . He will be in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, May 8th for a lecture and book signing through the Smithsonian Associates. The Nautilus and the Moon: (From Chapter 14) My mind meandered from thoughts of the shallow European sea to those of the far-off Pacific Ocean and one of its humblest and most obscure creatures, the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius Linnaeus),...Read more

Happy World Penguin Day!

An emperor penguin chick ( Aptenodytes forsteri ) huddles under its mother's legs to keep warm in the long Antarctic winter. Credit: Wikimedia User "Mtpaley" Even if you aren't a hardcore birder, chances are you have some hidden love for penguins. These flightless birds have captured our hearts through countless movies, beautiful images and their adorable fluffy young. Panoramic scenes of their large breeding colonies make penguin populations seem limitless, but the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists 11 of the 18 species as Vulnerable or Endangered. Penguins have certain...Read more