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 see and essential to observe for keeping track of the number of sea turtle nests. But they pose a challenge to scientists, who have to be in the right place at the right time to study them. By...
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 than make us smile, however; they also play important roles in ecosystems both in the ocean and on land. Penguins—adults, young and eggs—serve as food for predators such as...
Sometimes I think that our planet Earth, named for the Old English word for “dry land” (eorthe), should get a new name. Despite our knowledge that more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface is ocean—definitely not “dry land”—we still refer to our home by an 8th century description. The same goes for Earth Day. Since 1970, people around the world have set aside April 22nd of each year to think about protecting the environment. This includes the ocean, as it’s a huge part of Earth’s environment. But the sea often seems to play a background role compared to more terrestrial causes. What many...
Natural History Museum transforms Ocean Hall into live aquarium for World Oceans Day The National Museum of Natural History is celebrating World Oceans Day this year with a splash. On June 8th, the museum will be transforming its flagship 23,000 square foot Ocean Hall into a fully functioning saltwater aquarium. The 150,000 gallon aquarium will feature more than 2,000 live species, many of which have model counterparts already on display in the hall. This is an exclusive opportunity that will only be available to view on World Oceans Day, June 8th, after which the hall will be converted back...
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 disorders, I realized that it could also be possible to...
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 large predators like sharks and snappers, they assumed that the underwater landscape mirrored this familiar pattern. But as we explore reefs far from human settlements, we're finding that this assumption may be wrong: coral reefs and other coastal...
Sea ice is typically viewed as the domain of physical and natural scientists, the oceanographers, marine biologists, climate modelers, and navigators of the world. It is easy to forget another perspective—that of cultural anthropologists like myself. I have often written about how dramatic changes in the polar climate have impacted people’s cultures during centuries past, and now I am watching these changes with my own eyes. In the areas where polar people regularly venture out onto the ice, they view it as a part of their home environment and a familiar space. They use it as platform for...
Often it's the tiniest organisms that do the most harm. One example is microscopic algae, which can grow rapidly to form harmful algal blooms . Such blooms (some are called "red tides") create unhealthy water conditions or produce toxins that kill other organisms in the water. In 2013, hundreds of Florida manatees died from eating toxic red algae, which also killed off their usual seagrass food. That same year, more than 200 dead sea turtles washed ashore in El Salvador, also killed by eating toxic algae. In 2012, it was jumbo squid on the California coast , and the year before that it was...
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 trees popping up in unexpected places? In order to figure out why this is happening, we first have to figure out exactly where it is happening. This is easier said than done. Florida has hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands, and it would take an enormous amount of time to survey all of those wetlands on...
Picture this: clear, warm water bathing spectacular coral reefs , clouds of fish, circling sharks, and 17 scientists intent on studying the pristine tropical marine ecosystems of the Southern Line Islands . What could go wrong? That these ecosystems are, at best, nearly two days' transit from modern medical facilities—they sit roughly between Hawaii and Tahiti—may not weigh heavily on the minds of our scientists. But as the Diving Safety Officer for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography , I am always aware that even a relatively minor mishap can lead to major problems. Our team is composed...