My father once told me that the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who believe that the world is divided into two kinds of people and those who don’t. Wherever you come down on this particular issue, it’s clear that there is a common—if not always healthy—human impulse to classify objects into groups. In biology, this falls to taxonomists, whose job it is to classify living (and once-living) organisms into species, species into genera, genera into families, and so on. They do this not only to satisfy an impulse to classify, but also because it tells us something about the pace...
Marine parasites may be small in size, but they can be present in very high numbers and put together can weigh even more than all the top predators in an estuary or bay ecosystem! They play an important role in keeping their host population from growing out of control—allowing them to exert power over food webs and ecosystem function. High parasite diversity is even an indicator of a healthy ecosystem . What makes parasites fascinating to study is that they have had to evolve complex strategies that allow them to live both inside a host and outside in the environment. Here are a few examples...
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 sharks, giant manta rays , humpback whales , dolphins, tiger sharks, and all the colors...
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 diver named Wade Doak , who was somewhat of a legend in those parts. Over tea, Wade told me that he believed the marine life was better at Poor Knights today than when he was diving there in the 1950’s...
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 would take us another 100 years to accept that the ocean needs the same care and stewardship that we give our national parks on land. Eventually, the warning signs — vanishing coral reefs, declining fisheries, polluted coastlines — became...
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 2012, over half of the living coral has been lost. If current trends...
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 between tree roots or in caves. They mostly eat iguana poop (from Cyclura stejnegeri ), although they can also...
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-...
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 invertebrates and algae that grow, burrow and hide in the cracks and crevices of reefs. In the last few years, more than 500 identical ARMS have been deployed in shallow reefs around the world for a year at a time providing a standard...
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,...