ocean ecology

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

France becomes the first country to ban plastic plates and cutlery
The ban, to take effect in 2020, is part of a program aimed at making France a model for reducing environmental waste.

Another great step in the right direction to reduce single-use plastics and plastic pollution in the ocean!


Here is the trailer of Pirates of the Abyss that directed with @bertrandtodesco !

It’s a french animation project about adventure and ecology ! :)

Watersipora Wednesday! Here two opalescent nudibranchs crawl over the invasive bryozoan Watersipora subtorquata in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Watersipora, the rust-colored, lobed mass pictured here, is an invasive genus of bryozoan – or aquatic filter feeding invertebrates – that has taken up residence in and around the sanctuary. Though there’s still much to learn about how these organisms grow and thrive, Watersipora are thought to have been introduced to the California coast by hitching a ride on ships and boats traveling along the coastline. 

These bryozoans have proven difficult to control because research shows they can be resistant to antifouling paints commonly used to prevent attachment of aquatic organisms to the hulls of ships. Once settled in a new environment, Watersipora can have damaging effects on native invertebrate species, smothering them and outcompeting them for space. But researchers at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary have been working hard to understand how these organisms grow and thrive, and what ecological consequences we can anticipate from their spread. 

(Photo: Steve Lonhart/NOAA)


I recently went on a field trip to the coast for my plant community ecology class, stopping at various ecosystems along the way to learn about the plants that form each community. Over the next few weeks expect a lot of flower photos - but if you’re following me for the mycology, don’t worry. Mushrooms will return.

Check out these yellow zoanthids! Zoanthids are invertebrates related to reef-building corals and sea anemones. 

These were spotted colonizing the base of a dead golden octocoral in the deep waters of National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa! 

(Photo courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa) 

Microbe of the Week: Emiliania huxleyi

Hey faithful followers and scurvy sea dogs! It’s Monday, and that means it’s time to roll out the oh-so-sexy Marine Microbe of the Week!

This Death Star look-a-like is Emiliania huxleyi, known to its close friends as EHux (really). EHux is a coccolithophore: another protist, like Nematodinium (the dinoflagelate with an eye). Coccolithophores are a type of phytoplankton- single-celled algae that perform photosynthesis. EHux is by far the most abundant coccolithophore on the planet, and the third most abundant species of phytoplankton. I mentioned in an earlier post that phytoplankton are responsible for producing about half of the world’s organic carbon every year, and, simultaneously, half of all the atmospheric oxygen. Not bad for a single cell!

Those bony plates all over the exterior of the cell are called coccoliths, and they are made of calcium carbonate, aka chalk. The “White Cliffs of Dover” are actually made up on billions upon billions of coccolithophore skeletons. The chalk you write with on the blackboard in school? Same deal. Bet you didn’t know how rad you were, writing equations using microscopic skeletons, did you? The production and breakdown of all that calcium carbonate has a huge effect on the ocean’s pH, and the world climate, as EHux can act as either a carbon source or sink to the atmosphere. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed! 

But EHux is also rad for another reason. Every so often, huge numbers of them appear, covering tens of thousands of square kilometers, in something called a “bloom.” Because of the size and extent of these blooms, and the fact that calcium carbonate reflects light really well, you can actually see them from space via satellite. This means that we can actually identify these microbes remotely from the comfort of the lab- no sampling, microscopes, or DNA sequencing necessary! As an added bonus, the blooms look really cool.

As massive as these blooms are, they usually only last a couple of weeks. The ocean can be a fast-paced place.

Unnaturally high amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels is causing the ocean to slowly get more acidic, which seems to make EHux and other coccolithophores more or less melt like a plastic doll on a barbecue. Studying the ecology of EHux and other phytoplankton is helping ocean scientists answer many questions about the effects of global climate change and ocean acidification on the world’s oceans.

"So What Do You Study?"

A lot of people ask me if I’m a marine biologist, or refer to me as one when they talk about my work. There’s nothing wrong about it, exactly, but I don’t really identify as one. My PhD will technically be in biological oceanography, and while the two disciplines are similar there are some key differences. The distinction between the two isn’t codified by anyone, as far as I know, and there is probably a lot of overlap. This is how I was taught they are different. Feel free to comment with your (constructive) thoughts.

Marine biologists study the biology of organisms that live in the ocean: things like anatomy, physiology, behavior, disease, etc. A marine biologist knows the ins and outs of marine organisms. Because there is a huge amount of diversity in the ocean, marine biologists usually have a specialty, such as fish, cephalopods, mollusks, seaweeds, sponges… 

These jerks…

A biological oceanographer, on the other hand, studies the relationships between marine organisms, and the relationship between these organisms and the ocean. In other words, they are more concerned with things like food webs, predator-prey interactions, and nutrient availability than they are with the anatomy of an octopus, for example. Of course anatomy and behavior and things like that are important to ecology, but we’re less concerned with the details than we are with the overall outcome. Biological oceanography is also called ocean ecology, a term I think is WAY easier to understand, but that’s not what will be written on my degree, sadly.

More this, less dolphins.

To complicate the matter further, I specifically study the ecology of marine microbes, which makes me a marine microbial ecologist (or a microbial oceanographer). But I also work with DNA a lot, so you could call me a marine molecular ecologist. These terms mean absolutely nothing to most people. I can wax eloquent about how there are more microbes in the ocean then there are stars in the universe, but at the end of the day, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s work is going to be way more accessible than mine. The ocean, to most people, is a big blue mystery full of dolphins and Sharknado. Even when people do talk about all the amazing life in the ocean, microbes aren’t even on the radar. Vampire squid and mantis shrimp are relatable. You can’t teach a dinoflagellate to do tricks at Sea World. They are, however, watching you while you swim.

Maybe not as scary as this guy, but definitely creepy.

Anyway, this is why I experience a tiny rage every time someone asks me if I want to work in aquarium. Marine biologists work in aquariums, right?

P.S. I also cannot give you superpowers, develop a zombie plague, or cure your herpes. Please stop asking.

Climate Change: Species On The Move: Phytoplankton (InsideClimate News)

A phytoplankton bloom in the Barents Sea, August 2011 (Credit: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA Earth Observatory)

About This Species

Phytoplankton are tiny—almost microscopic—but don’t let that fool you. These free-floating, plant-like organisms occupy the bottom of the ocean’s food chain, making them vital to the ecosystem. They live in the ocean and in sea ice, and like plants on land, phytoplankton need sunlight. Most are buoyant and float in the upper portion of the ocean where sunlight can reach them. They provide food for a wide array of species, like whales, shrimp, snails and jellyfish.

In the Arctic, phytoplankton blooms are triggered by the melting of sea ice in spring. Light green shelves of phytoplankton swirl into the Arctic Ocean. As the climate changes and the oceans warm, the timing of phytoplankton blooms is shifting and the species are showing up in different places altogether. As this happens, the effects ripple outward, growing in significance along the way.


Warmer oceans are already resulting in earlier blooms. A new study in the journal Science found that for every degree that the water increased, one species of phytoplankton bloomed four or five days earlier. From 2003 to 2012, the bloom of that one species shifted 20 days earlier—a trend the researchers projected would continue as the oceans warm further.

Many species tie their lifecycles to the timing of the bloom. When phytoplankton blooms earlier, the next level of the food chain—zooplankton—can miss its opportunity to feed on phytoplankton. That mismatch can work its way up to the fish that eat the zooplankton, the seals that eat those fish and the polar bears at the top of the food chain.

In addition, when thick, old sea ice is thinned by warming, sunlight is able to permeate the surface and stimulate phytoplankton to bloom within the ice. What was once a white surface is made dark, which absorbs more energy from the sun and exacerbates warming.

Range Shifts

A combination of ocean warming and shifts in ocean circulation and surface conditions has phytoplankton on the move. In the coming century, species will shift northeastward, with major consequences for the ecosystem.

Looking Forward

That northeastward shift is happening at a faster rate than previously estimated. A study published in March 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described the dynamic combination of rising ocean temperatures and changes in ocean circulation and surface conditions that are driving this shift.

The study examined 87 North American phytoplankton species, looking at historical data from 1951-2000 and projections for 2051-2100. It found that 74 percent of the species it studied were moving toward the North Pole at a rate of 8 miles per decade, and that 90 percent were shifting eastward at a rate of 26.5 miles per decade.

“Anthropogenic climate change over the coming century may drive North Atlantic phytoplankton species ranges and communities to move in space, or shift, and cause communities to internally reassemble, or shuffle,” the study says.

Are jellyfish going to take over the oceans? | Karl Mathiesen
Karl Mathiesen: Like a karmic device come to punish our planetary transgressions, jellyfish thrive on the environmental chaos humans create. Is the age of the jellyfish upon us?
By Karl Mathiesen

Mathiesen’s article has awesome explanation of the study of Jellyfish blooms, and how global warming impacts the expansive smacks across the globe!



Aerial checks of more than 900 individual reefs showed the spread varies dramatically along its 2,300 kilometres, from 90 per cent north of Port Douglas to less than 10 per cent south of Mackay.  

Coral bleaching is when abnormal environmental conditions cause coral to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Loss of colourful algae causes coral to turn white and “bleach” -Bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise it may die.

The Great Barrier Reef has been threatened with mass bleaching due to weather conditions El Niño and the rapid climate change. 

The southern third of the Great Barrier Reef fortunately cooled down late in summer due to ex-cyclone Winston. Researchers expect the central and southern corals to regain their colour and recover over the next few months