Ocean-science

THE HIDDEN EVIL TWIN OF CLIMATE CHANGE

According to the results of a major new national survey published by the University, the majority of the British public has a very low awareness of the issue of ocean acidification, with around only one-in-five participants stating they had even heard of the issue.

The oceans are currently absorbing large quantities of the carbon dioxide which has been emitted into the atmosphere from human activities. This absorption of CO2 is leading to a reduction in the pH of seawater – termed ‘ocean acidification’. According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ocean acidification is the hidden face of increasing global carbon emissions and poses a future threat to a range of marine ecosystems and the societies which depend upon them.

Although many other aspects of global climate change are readily recognised by the general public, we know far less about how they view ocean acidification. Researchers from the School of Psychology have conducted the first comprehensive survey of the British public’s views on this topic, interviewing over 2,500 people across the country

Very low awareness of ocean acidification:

  1. Only around 1 in 5 participants state that they have even heard of ocean acidification. Among those who do say they have heard of it, levels of self-reported knowledge about the subject are very low.
  2. Additionally, we found no significant increase in levels of awareness following the Inter-governmental Panel (IPCC) scientific reports published in April 2014.

Some people do associate ocean acidification with climate change

  1. The term Ocean Acidification itself evokes associations with pollution and negative environmental consequences. A surprisingly large proportion of those surveyed (38%) also correctly attribute anthropogenic carbon emissions as the main cause of ocean acidification, though as many again (34%) perceived that it is caused by 'pollution’ from shipping.
  2. Damage to coral reefs and consequences for marine organisms were correctly recognised by many as important consequences of ocean acidification.

Concern increases with knowledge. Distrust remains.

  1. While most people do not initially express concern about ocean acidification, once provided with some basic additional information a clear majority (64%) do then express concern about the subject.
  2. Half of those surveyed thought ocean acidification should be a fairly or very high priority for action by the British Government, although very few trust the Government to give correct information about the issue.
  • image provide by Upwell
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The unstoppable glaciers of Antarctica


In the last few decades, glaciers in western Antarctica have been flowing out to the ocean at a faster rate.  Researchers from NASA and UC Irvine have been observing the glaciers in this area with 40 years of satellite data and have concluded that they’re melting at an unstoppable rate.

The issue lies in the fact that as a glacier moves faster to the ocean it thins out. This makes it lighter and able to float easier on water.  So a larger area of the glacier is touching the warming currents of the ocean.  This becomes a multiplying effect: more of the glacier melts at a faster rate. 

The dangers of this is that these glaciers contribute to a large percentage of sea level rise and in just two hundred years could raise the sea level by four feet.

String of Unusual Shark-Related Incidents in the Carolinas

If you live in the USA and have been following the news, you may know that there have been a sharp increase in shark incidents along the coasts of North and South Carolina. Since mid-May, there have been 10 recorded shark-related accidents on beach-goers. The annual average for this location is usually 6/year. 

(The most recent shark-related incidents along the Carolinas coast. Map is from CNN).

So what’s going on?

Scientists cannot pinpoint a specific reason, and a number of theories have been flying around, especially from the major media outlets.

One is that the proximity of fisherman from the beach was of particular concern in last weekend’s attacks. Bait and dead fish is likely to attract the bigger predators, and with swimmers nearby, it might not be the best mix.

Another popular theory is that drought conditions in the Carolinas have led to decreased fresh water runoff and thus to saltier sea water, which sharks prefer. Moreover, baby sea turtles and menhaden fish have been more plentiful than usual, providing more attraction for the sharks, and another potential explanation for these incidents. It is also possible that their usual food supply has been depleted or has changed its patterns. Overfishing, habitat destruction and increased sport fishing, with its baiting of sharks, also may be bringing the sharks closer to shore.

(A Great Hammerhead shark cruises in the Bahamas. Photo by Austin Gallagher)

Finally,  it may also be due to the simple fact that there are more people in the water. The Earth is as populated as it has ever been, and with the warming waters, people tend to go to the beach more. The increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans in turn increases the opportunities for interaction between the two parties.

24/7 news and social media coverage tends to exaggerate the danger. You are actually more likely to have an accident driving to the beach than being bitten by a shark at the beach. Check out this list of everything that’s more likely to kill you than a shark. Yes, vending machines are more likely to kill you than a shark!

Shark ‘attacks’ are still rare events, and rare events tend to cluster occasionally and get our attention when they do. It is tempting to look for pattern and for cause-and-effect when this happens, but we do not really have any scientific information on this particular event in the Carolinas, and it is thus hard to rule out any theory. It is probably one of those things listed above, but we cannot pinpoint a specific one quite yet.

(Photo by Fred Buyle).

People just have to be smart about it. Don’t go swimming at dusk or dawn, and avoid swimming where there is a lot of fish activity. Sharks have more to fear from us than the other way around. Millions of sharks are killed every year, many for just their fins or incidental to commercial fishing for other species.

We are not on the menu, because if we were, nobody would ever go in the ocean. I really do not like using the term “shark attack”, as it has a negative connotation and implies that sharks are purposefully out to get us. Sharks are not out to get people, and we have to respect that they are top predators and that the ocean is their territory, and we are just guests in it.

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Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean has been in the news for other reasons lately (possible debris from plane that vanished last year), but the island also has many geologic treasures. It owes its origin to a volcanic system and the volcano Piton de la Fournaise is currently producing some spectacular lava flows and fountains.

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IF YOU BELIEVE SIZE MATTERS:  PALAU, A SMALL ISLAND IN PACIFIC IS ESTABLISHING A NON-FISHING ZONE THE SIZE OF FRANCE

In 2009, the island of Palau, located in the western Pacific Ocean just above New Guinea, established the first shark sanctuary in the world. Officials from the country say they’ve seen such success with the shark sanctuary as a buzzing tourist destination that they’ve launched plans to ban all commercial fishing in Palau’s large ocean territory by 2018.

The free fishing zone will span 630,000 square kilometres (240,000 square miles) - an area the size of France - and has been described as “unprecedented”.

The reason behind the no-fishing zone, according to the President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, was to allow the ocean to heal and replenish its populations of fish after decades of overfishing by commerical enterprises from around the world. 

Remengesau said Pacific island nations, which are also struggling to deal with climate change, were effectively "the conscience of the world” on environmental matters and had to lead by example because of their special connection with the ocean,” says Neil Sands for AFP.

The ocean is our way of life," Remengesau told journalists. "It sustains and nurtures us, provides us with the basics of our Pacific island cultures, our very identities.”

Remengesau added that sharks offered more value to Palau as eco-tourism assets, saying that a 2011 study conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science concluded that a single reef shark could raise almost US$2 million for the local economy over 10 years thanks to the tourists that visit it. Figures put the tourism industry as being almost 30 times more lucrative to Palau than the commercial tuna industry. No attacks have ever occurred as the operators are careful to make sure everyone keeps a safe distance from the sharks.

We feel that a live shark is worth a thousand times more than a dead one,“ Remengesau said

Tune in TOMORROW, Thursday March 26, for a Smithsonian webcast titled Ocean Biodiversity - Discovering Marine Invertebrates, airing at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website. Dr. Karen Osborn, an invertebrate zoologist at the National Museum of Natural History, will appear live to discuss and answer questions. 

When we think about the ocean, we may visualize sea turtles swimming around coral reefs, sea urchins anchored in tidepools, dolphins breaching the surface, or even shrimp gathered around deepwater sulfur vents. But most of the ocean is just open water, miles and miles of it from below the surface to thousands of feet down. This ocean midwater is the largest habitat on Earth! 

Yet midwater habitat has not been well-studied because it is difficult to explore. It’s mostly cold, dark, and under high pressure. Some of its most surprising secrets are animals without backbones (invertebrates), such as worms and jellies, that come in a variety of weird colors and shapes. Many of these midwater species have never been recorded by science, challenging scientists to figure out what they are.

A big win for the oceans: Bay Ternay is saved!

It is with a very happy heart that I write this happy ocean story. As you may have read, I took a year off after graduating from Boston University in 2011, and I moved to the Seychelles Islands to work with an NGO on coral conservation. Our camp base was located in Bay Ternay, which is located on the main island of Mahe. 

The Bay is honestly my favorite place in the whole world. It was established as a marine park in 1979, and it is paradise, and a place I will hold forever dearly in my heart.  With no direct coastal road,and tricky access, this park retains its exclusivity and natural beauty. Mangroves, seagrass beds, and extensive coral reefs constitute the park… Anything you could think of, I have probably seen in this park: whale sharks, manta rays, schools of hundreds of devil rays, humphead parrotfish, hundreds of green and hawksbill turtles,squids,  dolphins, sharks, torpedo rays, moray eels, guitarfish, groupers… It’s all there. The biodiversity of the place is unreal.

(Photo by Joe Daniels)

The 1998 El Nino event was devastating for corals all around the world.  Water temperatures were up to 4C above normal seasonal maximum, and exceeded 30C over a significant period of time. Seychelles experienced about 90% coral mortality. The NGO I worked for found that coral cover increased from 10.25% in 2005 to 36.42% in 2012 on reefs across Mahe. Coral cover inside marine parks was much higher than outside them. The Bay was recovering extremely well.

(Check out that coral cover! Photo by Susanne Stigsson)

Unfortunately, the land had been sold to Emirates in 2007, which had huge plans of building yet another 5 stars resort, meaning the Bay would be completely dredged and destroyed to accommodate for the private residences, spas, and marinas. The Seychellois fought for the preservation of this unique place. They recognized the importance of biodiversity and marine ecosystem for not only the ocean but for the economy of the country. The island did not need another huge hotel, while many remain half-full most of the time. Many tourists visit Seychelles for its natural resources and diving. But it was hard for them to be heard. And I was about to explode sitting on my couch, not knowing what to do thousands of miles away to protect the place I love. 

(This was Emirates’ projected resort constructions. As you can see, the coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves would have been entirely destroyed).

Last week, the greatest news came to me. Perseverance won. The President of Seychelles put his foot down and stopped the project from going forward due to its high environmental consequences. 

“ All the scientific arguments suggest that such a project will affect the environment of the area. Naturally, as the President of this country, it is my duty and responsibility to take the best decision in the interest of the Seychellois people, and for the protection of our heritage. I have decided that there will be no such project at Cap Ternay.“

I literally cried tears of joy. The thought that I may not be able to ever go back to that place was making me sick to my stomach. But now it’s safe! The ecosystem will continue to recover, and all the marine life will continue to grow and prosper. I applaud the government of Seychelles, but mostly I applaud all the citizens that never gave up since this project came to light.

I know this may not mean a lot to you guys, but this just goes to show that anybody can be heard and can make a difference for places or causes that do matter. I hope you all get a chance to travel and explore the Bay, and fall in love with it like I did. 

(Photo by Susanne Stigsson)

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Flight over Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) and calf in El Doradillo, Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

Recently, researchers began to use extremely high-resolution satellite pictures and image-processing software to detect whales on or near the ocean’s surface, using these patrons found in right whale’s head (see more  at Nature). The platform can pinpoint things as small as 50 centimeters, although waves and murky water can confuse the program. Southern right whales were chosen to test because they are slow and shallow swimmers, but it could be used to track other animals.

Why Should I Care For the Oceans?

We’ve all heard it:

“Why does it matter if we overfish tuna? It tastes so good!”

“If the oceans dried up tomorrow, why would I care? I live 500miles away from any body of water!”

The thing is, without the oceans, we would all be dead. Our planet would probably look like Mars. There would be no freshwater, no food for us to eat, no suitable climate for us to survive.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whether you live by the coast, or only see the ocean once a year on holiday, the ocean has an impact on your life. Every breath you take, every food or drinks you have… is thanks to our oceans. Every single individual and living being on this planet is deeply connected, and extremely dependent upon our seas.

The oceans regulates climate, weather, and temperature. They act as carbon dioxide ‘sinks’ from the atmosphere. They hold 97% of the Earth’s water. They govern our Earth’s chemistry; all the microbes and microscopic organisms at the very bottom of the food chain support our own existence. The oceans are also crucial for our economies, health and security.

(Photo credit: Brian Skerry)

The past generations have been raised with the idea that the ocean is huge (and it is) and resilient, and that we could basically take from or put into the oceans as much as we wanted. Now, we found out that we cant go on this way. This mentality is part of our problem and it needs to change.

While we have made tremendous discoveries about the oceans over the last few decades, we have also caused more destruction to the sea than ever before. Many fisheries stocks are overfished, catastrophic fishing techniques are destroying the habitats and depleting populations, many marine species are on the verge of extinction, coral reefs are dying, pollution run-offs from agricultural farms are creating dead-zones where nothing can grow or live, millions of gallons of oil have devastated the Gulf of Mexico, bigger and faster container ships create noise pollution for marine mammals and endangers them…The list goes on, and on. We have had so much impact that we have actually changed the pH of the oceans! 

Pretty overwhelming, uh? 

So yes, you should care, because if the oceans crash, we as a species are crashing with them. The entire planet Earth will be gone. And if that’s not enough of a wake-up call for you, I don’t know what else could be!

While all the current marine conservation issues appear huge and insurmountable, there is still hope. Each individual can make a difference now. YOU can make better choices about which fish to consume (or not at all!) and ask about the way they were caught or raised, YOU can encourage sustainable fishing practices, YOU can decide not to use fertilizer or pesticides in your backyard, YOU can bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store and stop using plastics, YOU can stop using products with microbeads, YOU can participate in beach clean-ups, YOU can start your own research and discover even more awesome things about the oceans… YOU can spread the word to your skeptic friends! Have people follow in your footsteps; inspire your friends and family. Be the change :) !

(Photo source: Flickr)

“If you want to have an impact on history and help secure a better future for all that you care about, be alive now” - Sylvia Earle

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Why are oysters dying?

Increasingly, oysters are dying off largely due to ocean acidification, which is the reduction in the pH level of seawater when CO2 is absorbed by the ocean.

As a result, the acidic and corrosive water breaks down the calcium carbonate minerals in seawater that many calcifying organisms need to build their protective shells and skeletons, making it harder for them to survive and reproduce.

Another culprit of the oyster larvae deaths have been pathogenic bacteria that have been getting into the waters in the hatcheries.

So what are researchers doing to monitor the effects of ocean acidification? Watch the most recent episode of California Matters: What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change.

SHARK PUPS MAY NOT SURVIVE CLIMATE CHANGE

Researchers find that warming ocean and acidification could hit young sharks hard. No one knew how juvenile sharks might respond to climate change until now. Scientists found that the condition and survival of young tropical bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium punctatum) fell sharply if they developed and hatched in warmer, more acidic water. 

Acidic water affects how some ocean animals take up calcium to build their bones and shells. But without bones, sharks should have no such problems, since sharks’ muscles attach to a lightweight framework of cartilage unlike the boney skeletons of other fish.

In laboratory, researchers observed the embryos’ survival at their native temperature and pH, and with combinations of a 4° C (7° F) increase in temperature and/or a 0.5 lowering of pH. Initially, most of the shark embryos survived. But after they hatched, the young sharks’ condition deteriorated. In the group exposed to both warming and lowered pH, more than half the young sharks died within 30 days after hatching. 

The sharks may adapt over several generations. However, the long lifespans of many species and their relatively low rates of reproduction might limit how quickly they can change.

You know you are a marine scientist when...

  • You own more field clothes than professional clothes.
  • Your Keens are your most valuable pair of shoes.
  • You probably own a wetsuit for every kind of weather and water temperature (guilty, I own 5 wetsuits and a hoodie…).
  • You shake your head when you tell people you work in marine science and they say “so are you a dolphin trainer?”

  • The only fashion trends you care about are new scuba diving equipment.
  • You go full-on nerd when you can access a scientific paper for free.
  • You also go full-on nerd when your research gets published for the first time.
  • Statistics are your living nightmares.
  • Grants, grants, grants, grants…. grants!

  • You have an irrational obsession with the Cousteau family, Sylvia Earle and/or David Attenborough.
  • It’s very hard for you not to buy everything you see at the store that is ocean-related or that has a marine animal on it.
  • You get to spend time at sea or on remote islands with no access to the outside world or the Internet and actually enjoy it.
  • Chances are, you’ve been stung by fire coral, jellyfish multiple times, have had some urchin spines stuck in your leg, got bitten by damselfish or got weird rashes from who knows what was in the water?!

  • You often communicate using dive signs with your co-workers, even though you’re on land.
  • The sound of a biogeochemistry class doesn’t scare you away.
  • You usually have one favorite ocean species and get very fired up when people start arguing with you about it.
  • You have watched Blue Planet at least 20 times.
  • And The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. 

  • Similarly, you know every line from Finding Nemo.

  • You have inadvertently brought back wildlife home from the field, and only realized when you saw a little crab crawling around your bathroom floor.
  • You already have, or are seriously considering getting tattoos related to the marine life.
  • You get ridiculous tan lines in the summer doing field work.

  • One of your most acute fear is that something will get messed up in your tanks and will kill your live animals, i.e killing your dreams of a thesis. 
  • You have gone multiple days without a shower, and sometimes you’ve had to resort to a saltwater shower.
  • As a lady, your coworker are used to seeing you ‘au naturel’, because really, ain’t nobody got time for make-up while you’re in the field.
  • You think you are going to change the world… hey, maybe you will ;)