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...
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 track of how populations of birds have changed through time. Now comes the salt water equivalent— Ocean Sampling Day —which will take place on Saturday, June 21...
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...
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 demands so much respect from people. I started diving with sharks when I was 12 years old. I am lucky enough to live close to the Great Barrier Reef, where there are beautiful sharks and spots for diving, and to have my dad teach me how to dive. Over many dives, I got to know the...
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...
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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...