The Ocean Blog

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
A Hawaiian petrel in flight

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
Emperor Penguin Chick with Mother

Happy World Penguin Day!

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 characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to large-scale changes to our oceans and climate: their reproductive lifestyle of...Read more

Field Notes from the East African Coast

Traditional fishing techniques now involve monofilament nets, with snorkelers diving down to ensure the bigger fish don't get away. Credit: Caine Delacy 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...Read more
An underwater photo of a school of jacks and a scuba diver

Release Your Inner Blue Poet

"I was photographing this beautiful school of jacks when a diver slowly approached from beneath. I shifted my position to capture the moment he entered the ball of fish. Seconds later, he was completely immersed in the school.” -- Nature's Best photographer, Steve De Neef Credit: Steve De Neef, Antwerp, Belgium 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...Read more
A blue crab on the Mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S.

A Bite of Bitter Crab

Credit: Brian Henderson, Flickr user stinkenroboter 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...Read more

Ocean Acidification Excites Boring Sponges

This orange boring sponge ( Cliona varians ) overgrows several coral species at Panama's Smithsonian Tropical Studies Institute. Credit: Amber Stubler 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...Read more