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 surface. Ocean plants produce some 50% of the planet's oxygen. Seawater absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. And...
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 seafarer. We’ve come to view it as a sort of indicator of food web history in the oceanic zone of the North...
Tags: Food web
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 the dump site, I soon saw circling dogfish and salmon sharks extending all the way from 80 feet to the surface—maybe 50 sharks, perhaps more. All those dogfish were drawn to a pile of Alaskan salmon...
Tags: Salmon
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 characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to large-scale changes to our oceans and climate: their reproductive lifestyle of laying only one or two eggs,...
We began this journey three months ago, a team of scientists and filmmakers traveling the East African coastline by boat to document and research the status of coral reefs from South Africa to Kenya. We have observed a lot of changes in the coral reef communities as we travel north. Some of these changes are natural shifts in biodiversity, species composition and structure of the reef communities. There are also those changes that are caused by humans . Where Have All the Big Fish (and Sharks) Gone? Immediately obvious when we dive a new location are the effects of fishing, fishing practices...
April is National Poetry Month here in the United States. We'd like you to help us celebrate by penning a poem in the comment field below or on our Facebook page . The ocean has served as an inspiration for as long as poets have been writing poems. Some people are inspired by the ocean’s powerful, crashing waves, like when Homer wrote about the “wine dark sea” in the Odyssey . Its fascinating animals sparked Walt Whitman , while its depth and mystery drew in former US poet laureate Billy Collins. Even play on the beach can be a source of inspiration: it compelled E. E. Cummings to pen the...
Tags: Ocean art
Hopefully you've never bitten into a delicious hunk of snow crab meat and instantly spit it out because instead of crab you tasted... aspirin?! If you have, it might have been crab meat infected with a species of Hematodinium , a parasitic dinoflagellate that is the cause of Bitter Crab Disease in cold-water crab species. This parasite lowers the “tasty factor” of commercially important cold-water crabs around the world. At present, there are reports of 39 species of crab and shrimp from 12 countries being infected. Recent victims include the snow crab ( Chionoecetes opilio ), the Norway...
Boring sponges get a bad rap. Their own name betrays them, announcing to the world that they are unexciting, ordinary and quite frankly, boring. However, if ever a misnomer existed, this is it. More flatteringly referred to as excavating or bioeroding sponges, these animals play the important yet thankless role of breaking down and recycling calcium carbonate (the main component of eggshells, corals and shelled marine organisms). Using a combination of chemical and mechanical erosion, these sponges dissolve and slowly chip away at dead, diseased, and occasionally healthy corals. In doing so,...
With 1,400 named species of ribbon worms inhabiting every ecosystem on earth, seeking one out should be an easy proposition. But I quickly learned that it can be quite daunting when you’re looking for certain teeny-tiny mud-loving worms. I recently accompanied Dr. Jon Norenburg and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Eduardo Zattara, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History research scientists in the Department of Invertebrate Zoology , on a research trip to Fort Pierce, Florida. The goal? Find ribbon worms (phylum Nemertea ) belonging to the genus Carinoma or to the family Hubrechtidae . Members...
It is a well-known fact that for animals living in the deep sea, food can be scarce. The food that is around usually rains down from above as dead animals and organic particles from plankton living near the ocean’s surface. Occasionally, a bonus in the form of a good-sized dead fish, a porpoise, or even a whale will come down, the whale providing food for millions of animals for scores of years. Marine plants, seaweeds and sea grasses , can also play an important role in providing food to the deep sea. Turtle grass ( Thalassia testudinum ), which grows in coastal warm waters around Florida,...