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Oceans

Endangered Ocean Plants Essential to Our Ecosystems

May 17, 2018
ocean plants

When you think of the ocean, and especially endangered species in the ocean, what comes to mind? For most people, it’s things like adorable penguins, majestic whales or playful dolphins. While these animals are all important parts of their respective ecosystems and may be endangered, they’re not the only life forms at risk. Ocean plants are an essential part of our ecosystems, and many of them are endangered as well, thanks to overfishing and other human interventions. Here are a few ocean plants that are essential parts of their own ecosystem and part of the oceanic biosphere as a whole.

Gracilaria Skottsbergii

The Galapagos Islands are known for their remoteness — and if we’re being honest, for their massive, ancient turtles. It is, or was, also home to a very rare type of red algae known as Gracilaria Skottsbergii. First discovered in 1934 at depths between 12 and 27 meters, this algae is a primary food source for sea urchins and other herbivores in the area.

This is one of the few ocean plant species that is considered to be critically endangered. It is so rare at this point that it is nearly impossible to observe in the wild and may actually be extinct in some areas. Climate change is being blamed for the loss of this rare red algae, as changing ocean temperatures disrupted its ecosystem.

Johson’s Seagrass

Florida is known for its beaches and tourist attractions — and for Johson’s Seagrass, an endangered type of ocean plant that is only found in the waters around the Sunshine State. It is an integral part of the ecosystem, absorbing carbon dioxide from the water and acting as a food source for everything from green sea turtles to manatees. It also acts as a home to many of the native fish and shellfish that inhabit the waters around the state.

This particular seagrass is threatened by pollution and runoff from the state’s industrial and agricultural areas.  It is also damaged frequently by boaters passing on the water above them. As a slow growing seagrass, it doesn’t repair damaged areas quickly, making it difficult for this species to thrive when it is so threatened.

The Great Barrier Reef

While the reef itself isn’t a plant, the great coral structure is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals that will all be threatened if the reef dies. The obituaries for the reef that made the rounds on social media last year were more accurate than even their authors realized — the great reef is dying, because of climate change and human-introduced pollutants in the water.

When the Great Barrier Reef, this 25-million-year-old wonder of the natural world, finally dies, it will take its entire ecosystem with it. The ecosystem will collapse and all of the plants and animals that call the coral home will have to relocate or die — and most will probably die.

Plankton

No, we’re not talking about the one-eyed villain from the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon. Plankton, the often microscopic plants that float throughout the oceans, are an integral part of nearly every oceanic ecosystem in world. They are being threatened by climate change and water pollution throughout the world — and if they die, life on Earth might go with them.

Professor David Thomas, of the University of Bangor, explained it best. “Half of the world’s oxygen is produced by these organisms. If you took that away you would lose the basis of life on the globe. There simply wouldn’t be enough oxygen to support life.” We, quite literally, can’t exist without plankton and many of the individual species are starting to become endangered due to human intervention.

Asian Surfgrass

The coasts of China, Japan and Korea are often heavily fished to sustain the growing populations of those three countries. One species that is taking the brunt of the damage causing by overfishing and aquaculture isn’t a fish at all — it’s Asian Surfgrass. This ocean plant used to grow all along the coasts of all three countries, serving as a food source for a variety of different animals.

Today, thanks to the growing kelp aquaculture industry in the area, this surf grass is dying out and can only be found in very limited areas in the region. Japan’s habit of using dynamite in fishing also damages the grass’ ecosystem, making it hard for it to grow back in damaged areas. It is currently listed as endangered, but the aquaculture industry might mean that this ocean plant isn’t too far from extinction.

Eyelash Seaweed

This ocean plant might sound a little strange, but it is one of the oldest plants in the ocean — at least that we’ve discovered so far. It is only found in one place — off the eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Not much is known about this particular species of seaweed, in spite of its apparent age. It was only discovered in 2000.

It is entirely possible that this species is extinct. The 2016 Kaikoura earthquake that rocked New Zealand lifted the seabed in the area where the eyelash seaweed is was discovered, and it hasn’t been spotted since. While this particular extinction might not directly be due to human actions, the fact that it was only found one some boulders off the coast of New Zealand might be due to the fact that it can’t spread further because of changing water temperatures or ocean chemistry. Conservationists in the area are currently searching for any remaining eyelash seaweed populations so they can be studied further.

 

All of these ocean plants have two things in common — each one is an integral part of its local ecosystem, and each one is threatened because of climate change, agriculture and aquaculture, or other human interventions. Without ocean plants, the ocean’s ecosystem would collapse and we would lose an important source of food, medicine and oxygen that is essential for our continued survival on this planet. The plants can’t speak for themselves, so it’s up to us to protect them to ensure that the beautiful oceans that we enjoy today — complete with their majestic whales and playful dolphins — are there for future generations to enjoy.

Oceans

Oceanography vs. Marine Biology: What’s the Difference between the Two?

May 3, 2018
oceanography vs marine biology

Our planet is a wonder, at least as far as we know. It’s the only place in the universe that contains life. That life, all of the life we know of in the entire universe, depends on the oceans. Studying the oceans is a life-long goal for many people. Both the fields of oceanography and marine biology have intense competition, especially for graduate school placement.

The work you do, regardless of which field you choose, will be essential. As climate change progresses, it will only become more so. But that doesn’t always mean it will be good. Working on the ocean is hard, it can be dangerous, and it’s often underfunded. When considering oceanography vs. marine biology, you face similar working conditions and hazards. It comes down to the work you’ll be doing.

Oceanography

An oceanographer has a big job. The oceans are vast, and they’re constantly changing. The presence of saltwater and currents makes this job more like a combination meteorology and climatology than one or the other, and that’s just if you’re studying the water itself. It also focuses on the physics and chemistry of the oceans. As you can imagine, that’s an incredibly complex system.

Oceanographers study underwater volcanoes, coral reefs, the deep abyss and the accumulation of plastic in some regions of the waters. The rubber duck experiment is an excellent example of how these scientists will use whatever means they can to learn about the seas. It was also a great example of how marine scientists can use the help of citizen scientists to fill out some of their information. Even when comparing oceanography vs. marine biology, it quickly becomes apparent that both fields can significantly benefit from citizen scientists who take the time to measure, log and submit information.

The work of an oceanographer is so vast it can be hard to narrow down. But the work they do is incredibly important. This is where you’ll find people who are studying the global ocean conveyor belt and trying to determine how climate change is affecting a 1,000-year cycle.

Marine Biology

The study of life in our oceans is not precisely a separate science from oceanography. It can be, and individual topics have to be sorted out that way, but the reality is that all life in the oceans depends on the physical oceans. To have a full understanding of marine biology, you’ll have to have some knowledge of oceanography. You’ll need to know how the currents impact living organisms, what happen in specific areas to create individual ecosystems and how they contribute to the whole.

But beyond that, you’ll need to know about the actual species you’re studying. The life of the ocean is pretty much everything in it. While oceanographers need to understand why the currents collect plastic in specific areas like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you’ll need to know what animals frequent those areas and what the impact of the plastic will be.

Studying life in the ocean is wide-ranging and will require you to narrow down your field as much as an oceanographer would have to. You’ll have to learn about the differences between mega and micro flora and fauna and choose what you want to study. Megafauna includes the large animals, everything from whales to some species of crabs. Microfauna are mostly microscopic, like zooplankton. Even at their tiniest, these animals have a massive impact on the health and wellness of the oceans, and some researchers spend their entire lives dedicated to them.

As climate change progresses, marine biologists will be watching and learning as much as they can. They will have to try and determine which species are being impacted the fastest by the changing seas and try to protect them. They’ll be learning how to encourage coral reefs to grow faster and be hardier, as well as deal with invasive species.

The Big Difference

To sum up, the difference between both fields is pretty clear. Marine biologists study things that live in the ocean. The bio in marine biology means “life.” Of course, the ology means “study of” and marine means “aquatic.” That gives you “the study of aquatic life.

On the other hand, oceanographers study the physical elements of the ocean its self. That means tides, rock formations, salt content and geography. That’s pretty much what it boils down to, but the nuances are what make it interesting.

One of these is not better than the other. They’re both different and what you’re drawn to will depend on what you want to actually do. If you choose something you’re passionate about, your job will never grow old.

Oceans

Humpback Whales vs. Orcas: Is There Empathy Among Wildlife?

April 9, 2018
empathy among wildlife

Scientists are observing humpback whale behavior that might be empathetic.

Never become complacent in thinking you know everything there is to know about our planet. Inevitably, something will happen to make you realize you don’t know as much as you thought you did. Besides, that’s one of the great things about our world: learning new and interesting things about it.

As humans, we are the most advanced species on the planet, and we believe that all other animals, while possessing survival intelligence, can’t match our wit and reasoning capabilities. These traits certainly set us apart from other animals, but scientists are learning that animals might have more adaptations than we originally believed. One of these might even be empathy among wildlife.

Empathy and Wildlife

Empathy is the ability to recognize and share feelings with others. Empathy gives humans the ability to experience emotions and situations from another person’s perspective. We can put ourselves in their place and feel their emotions. Empathy is believed to be a socially learned behavior, and it helps humans have better relationships with other humans.

However, observations in the wild have made scientists and researchers question what they know about animal interactions and behavior, particularly in interactions between humpback whales and orcas. There have been many situations where a humpback whale will come to the defense of another species that is being attacked by orcas — an action that is almost completely unheard of in the animal world.

Humpback Whales vs. Orcas

Humpback whales are amazing creatures. They are intelligent, they have the ability to communicate with one another and they have problem-solving and decision-making skills. In the communication department, each humpback population has its own dialect, and the calves have to learn how to sing because they aren’t born with the knowledge — which means they have the capacity to learn and teach.

Since the 1950s, there have been 115 reports of humpback whales interacting with orcas (killer whales), and 89 percent of the incidents were not to protect one of their own species. Humpback whales have come to the aid of gray whales, seals and sunfish.

Scientists are unsure exactly why humpback whales would exhibit this type of behavior, especially since it could result in injury or death. Animals often act on instinct and are driven by survival, which means they will stay out of situations that could get them seriously injured. Not all humpback whales participate in killer whale attacks, but the fact that some do is intriguing.

Whales have an advantage in size when it comes to defending other animals against orcas. Humpbacks top out at 50 feet in length, while orcas can grow to 31 feet. However, orcas often hunt in packs, which could spell disaster for a lone humpback, but that hasn’t stopped one humpback whale from making a stand. If the humpbacks work together, they have that much more force and mass against a pod of orcas. But mass is nothing against weapons, and orcas have teeth, while humpbacks only have baleen. That fact still hasn’t stopped some humpbacks from facing off against orcas.

Deciphering Humpback Whale’s Actions

There are arguments that the reason humpbacks engage killer whales during attacks is because they’ve evolved with a behavioral rule that tells them they must break up orca whale attacks. This could have been imprinted on them when they were young because they had been attacked or passed down through their genes. It’s possible the humpback doesn’t realize it’s saving another species until it gets to the scene. It might just be acting on ingrained instincts.

Others argue that the whales are exhibiting empathy. As scientists and researchers learn new things about wildlife, some believe that empathy among wildlife is a possibility. The willingness to help others in need can be found in chimpanzees and young children. The researchers claim that empathy can’t be a learned trait because chimpanzees and young children haven’t been taught these lessons. Therefore, it must be a trait that occurs naturally, which would explain why other animals exhibit empathy.

Other animals that exhibit compassion or empathy include dolphins helping out stranded dogs and humans. Elephants seem to mourn their dead, and they often have tight-knit herds that work together to protect each other and their young.

However, despite the observations, scientists caution that we shouldn’t attribute too many human characteristics to the humpback whales’ actions. After all, they are still animals and haven’t evolved in the same way humans have. It is argued that humpback whales are actually being incredibly selfish when they rush in to defend others against an orca attack.

If the goal of a species is to propagate and pass their genes through the generations, they have to ensure that the young survive. Killer whales target and kill humpback whale calves for food. The adults in the humpback group defend their young to keep them safe. It’s possible that by coming to the aid of another species, they are showing force to the killer whales that they shouldn’t be messed with. It seems like an incredibly heroic and empathetic gesture to aid another species, but it’s possible the humpbacks do it to discourage attacks on their young.

The Surprising Natural World

We don’t have an answer as to why humpback whales come to the aid of other species when they are being attacked by orcas, but we know that it happens. Whether it’s because of selfish reasons or because it’s an act that’s been hardwired into the animal’s genes, it has been documented as occurring over several decades in the wild.

If nothing else, the act shows us that perhaps we don’t understand the world as we thought we did. It continues to surprise and impress us. Perhaps one day we will find the answer to this question, but we may not. Perhaps nature will continue to shock us with new animal behaviors and actions.

The only way to truly appreciate our world and the creatures living in it is to see them thriving and surviving in their natural habitats. As our population continues to grow and we expand into previously uninhabited parts of the world, we encroach into many species’ habitats. When this happens, we either drive the species out or change their world in detrimental ways, including killing the animals.

By understanding the animal world, it gives us insight into our own. We’ve already learned so much about different species, yet we continue to discover new things. We live in a crazy, beautiful world that continues to reveal new and exciting secrets about its animal kingdom. If we want to find the answers to these new questions and discover even more revelations about whether there is empathy among wildlife, we need to find a way to live in peace and harmony with all of the world’s creatures.

Oceans

What Do Protected Waters Mean for Sea Life?

April 2, 2018
protected waters mean for sea life

Conserving ocean life is critical — our oceans are home to everything from microscopic organisms to blue whales. These species depend on ocean health to survive, yet offshore oil and gas development, along with climate change and fishing, constantly threaten sea life. These issues are why oceans need to be conserved, managed and protected consistently.

The ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth and contributes a great deal to human life as well, like with oxygen production. The United States has over 1,600 marine protected areas that cover 80 percent of national waters. The purpose of MPAs is to regulate human activity and prevent the loss of marine life. However, the amount of MPAs that exist doesn’t mean there’s an overabundance of protection, especially in areas that are poorly designed.

So what do protected waters mean for sea life?

Create Protected Areas Equally

Since some areas are more protected than others, it’s difficult to truly assess just how much protection marine life has in U.S. waters. MPAs range from lenient to strict — some even prohibit human entry. They come in many forms and are established and managed by different levels of the government. MPAs are created for many reasons – to protect the world’s ecosystems, preserve natural and cultural resources and sustain fisheries production.

While the majority of MPAs are multiple-use sites where boating, surfing, fishing, diving and other activities are allowed, others affect only one specific species — not the overall area and its inhabitants. Fishing, for example, is permitted in over half of U.S. waters, therefore endangering over half of marine life, but some of it is protected.

The Union for Conservation of Nature created a system that categorizes protected areas based on their level of protection in international bodies like New Zealand and Australia. However, the U.S. does not yet use this system that would make marine protection more transparent, therefore improving it.

The reason the U.S. is not on board is that too many current MPAs would be decommissioned. The U.S. allows regulated waters for fisheries management to be considered MPAs — the Union for Conservation of Nature system does not. The U.S. needs to follow this same system to better protect sea life.

Put Strict MPAs in the Right Places

The strictest kind of MPA is called a no-take area, where fishing, offshore development and other, similar operations are prevented. Because of their strict rules, these no-take areas have a better chance of preventing the loss of marine life, unlike less strict areas. Yet, they are located in the wrong areas — not in those that can actually reduce threats to sea life.

No-take areas are placed in waters with limited resources because of the economic incentives that come along with doing so. These low-cost waters have low economic value and are using up resources that could potentially save marine life. Most no-take areas in the U.S. are focused around deep, remote waters in the Central Pacific — unsuitable for extraction to begin with. So why are we protecting the wrong waters?

No-take areas cover only certain habitats, leaving the rest vulnerable to the outside world. Most conservation planning has a goal to protect samples of each habitat type that exists, but this doesn’t mean all efforts share the same goal. Thirty percent of each habitat’s area should be protected by no-takes, yet only two of the U.S. habitats in the central Pacific have this type of coverage. The other 16 habitats have one percent or less of this sort of coverage.

To solve this issue, the U.S. should have no-take areas in each habitat. This kind of solution will undoubtedly take careful planning, but it’s possible to protect 30 percent of each habitat with no-take areas.

Educate the Public

It isn’t enough to just have MPAs in place if the public doesn’t understand them or what their role is. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has partnered with environmental organizations and other groups to take on the task at hand and properly educate those who are a threat to sea life — you. It’s important that you understand that oceans are essential to life on Earth, and it’s your responsibility to contribute to their preservation.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has invested in signage, community outreach and other efforts, but with limited resources, the state of California cannot enforce the MPA network along its entire coast. Oceans can be better protected with stronger penalties and stricter conservation laws, so these are more than necessary, along with other efforts.

There are also ways you can educate yourself. Go whale watching so that you can learn how to help the animals you visit in their natural habitat. Your tour guide will inform you about sea life and the oceans around you, which will make you want to do more to protect the planet. Choose a company that has strict guidelines, as you don’t want to interrupt natural habitats by feeding sea life, touching them or making too many trips.

Follow Protection Acts and Treaties

Since the high seas have no borders, more issues arise due to overfishing, which can cause the extinction and depletion of marine mammal species. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the import, export, sale and hunting of marine mammals within U.S. jurisdiction, with certain exceptions. This protects marine mammals from people on ecotourism holidays and keeps them from being hunted, captured or killed.

You will face stiff penalties if you are caught harassing wildlife — a good incentive to treat marine life and their homes with respect.

The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, sometimes referred to as the Ocean Dumping Act, regulates dumping activities in oceans and other waters of the U.S. For years, dumping has made U.S. waters a marine garbage dump, but this act prohibits or strictly limits that kind of activity. In turn, it makes oceans safer to swim in for humans and marine life alike.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty also regulates the conduct of business in oceans and other bodies of water and protects the ocean’s health and resources from overuse.

The Earth’s oceans and bodies of water around us depend on our protection. With proper education, protection acts and treaties, along with effective MPAs, better-protected waters are right around the corner. However, it will take a team effort to drive this initiative so that sea life can continue to be safe. Prevention is where it all begins, and with proper planning and regulation, it can be done. It’s simple — oceans are essential to life here on earth. Treat them as such.

Oceans

After a Heated Month, What’s The Outlook for Arctic Sea Life?

March 16, 2018
Outlook for Arctic Sea Life

Up north, the ice is melting. This fact is nothing new for many of us, who have heard the warnings of global climate change since the early 2000s. However, as new reports continue to emerge, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Sea ice is melting, and faster than anyone thought. If this trend continues, we’ll be headed for a complete seasonal melt of the ice caps by 2030 — far ahead of the direst predictions of yesteryear.

Rising oceanic temperatures and melting ice can have a tremendous impact on various factors, both locally and around the globe. It’s important to take a close look at how the rest of the ecosystem — both at home and around the world’s oceans — will fare under these new conditions.

Global Climate Change

Though the linear quality of climate-change science makes it easy to see what direction the world is going in the long term, several unpredictable factors influence the speed at which the process moves. It is impossible to project the exponential rate by which ice sheets melt. While warmer global temperatures will naturally result in ice melting at a faster rate, other factors complicate the pace of this melting.

For instance, the more ice sheets break up, the faster they will melt, as there is more surface area exposed. Likewise, the influx of cold fresh water into the surrounding environment from the melting ice can have enormous and unpredictable effects on tides. While tides and currents might typically operate like clockwork, the system is dependent upon very predictable global temperatures. With warming oceanic temperatures and ice melt introduced locally, some tides have been thrown off balance.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), for instance, accounts for a tremendous amount of the world’s water circulation. With changing oceanic factors from the melting ice, AMOC is showing signs of sluggishness. Without the circulation of water around the world, the entire oceanic balance could be thrown into flux.

Of course, if this is the case, the repercussions of melting ice stretch far beyond the northern and southern reaches of the planet. A lack of water circulation can mean continued colder temperatures for some areas, with uncharacteristic blizzards and other weather anomalies. Rising ocean temperatures can also account for a larger instance of hurricanes off tropical coasts, as more moisture takes to the air, making conditions ideal for a cyclone.

All of this has been on display in recent years. Several Caribbean islands and the eastern U.S. experienced several extremely severe hurricanes this past year, whereas climate change has contributed to the wildfires scorching the western states. Scientists postulate this trend will continue.

The Wildlife

With all these factors — and more — potentially getting hit by climate change, ocean wildlife everywhere is in danger. While people tend to rally around campaigns targeting charismatic megafauna — “Save the bears” — some of the worst damage is targeted on the ocean’s platform of microorganisms and plant life. These, in turn, provide the working ecosystems that support the world’s giants.

Coral, for instance, has shown to be a deceptively fragile organism. With rising temperatures has come the phenomenon of coral bleaching, in which the coral turns completely white. This is becoming increasingly commonplace throughout the world’s oceans. Warming water temperatures contribute to the preconditions for coral bleaching, along with changes in light and available nutrients.

Coral and algae exist in harmony with one another, the algae acting as a booster to the coral’s natural immunities. While the algae reside within the coral, coral populations are better able to repel natural bacteria, parasites and sickness. The bleaching comes when coral becomes stressed by external conditions and expels the algae. Following the expulsion, the coral becomes significantly more vulnerable to the natural ailments the algae ordinarily fended off. Bleaching events can result in a single sickness wiping out entire reefs.

Global warming is not the only environmental threat to the world’s coral reefs. Naturally destructive events also include hurricanes and erratic tide patterns. Both of these factors have some correspondence with global warming, with many scientists positing rising ocean temperatures will likely mean greater instances of extreme weather — hurricanes included.

Coral, incidentally, remains one of the most important platforms for ocean life. Coral reefs provide a unique environment in which many species are accustomed to living. By endangering the health of the reefs, potentially hundreds of other species become endangered by proxy. They also shield the shorelines from intense weather events. With the death of gigantic tracts of coral reef, the effects of hurricanes and tidal waves will be even worse than usual for humans and wildlife living along the shores.

With the advent of global melting, several other species have also had their unique arctic homes destroyed. Chief amongst these is the iconic polar bear, which normally lives on the surface of the ice and hunts sea-born creatures like seals and walrus. With the continued melting of polar sheets, polar bears often find themselves stranded on ever-shrinking territory, unable to move from one sheet to the next and easily avoided by their usual prey. For many bears, the swim between sheets is too long.

The warming has also had a terrible effect on native populations of the northernmost reaches. Communities of Inuits, for instance, have traditionally hunted walrus as a source of fatty meat to survive the long winters. While technology has been introduced to the population, and neither starvation nor freezing is imminent, global warming represents the end of a cultural way for many tribes.

The journey across the ice for traditional walrus hunts is often too dangerous and claims the lives of many hunters. Indeed, the walrus population, which requires steady ice for lounging, has been a cause for concern among many scientists, who see the population unable to survive the changes. This, unfortunately, is a similar outlook for arctic sea life throughout the area. For plants and animals, the changes of global warming are particularly jarring.

The New World

As warming continues, the world will continue changing in strange new ways. Many populations — from the lowliest coral to huge polar bears and walrus — will experience environmental stress the likes of which the world has not seen in millennia. Species that are the most adaptable and tough will survive and thrive, while those with specified environments will likely go extinct. Although those in arctic conditions will be hit hardest, the ripples of global warming stretch across the Earth.

Oceans

10 Reasons Why Everyone Needs to Go Whale Watching

February 26, 2018
Why everyone needs to go whale watching

Going on vacation usually means something relaxing. Most people want to sit by the pool or on the beach, drink in hand, soaking up the sun. But every once in a while, that idea just sounds boring, doesn’t it? Take a chance and do something exciting. Go whale watching! Here are 10 reasons why everyone needs to go whale watching.

1. Spend Money on Experiences, Not Things

First and foremost, going whale watching will benefit you. Numerous studies have shown that people who spend money on doing things instead of buying them get more happiness out of the experience.

This makes sense because the memories of an experience will stay with you for a lifetime, while a thing that you bought eventually just blends in with the background of your life. Your enjoyment of an experience increases or stays steady over time, but a thing is likely to just stop being enjoyable.

2. It’s a Thrill

No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re never really ready to see a whale. If you get really fortunate and see a pod, then you’ll be flabbergasted by the sheer enormity of them. Speaking from experience, it’s almost impossible not to be overwhelmed and then almost instantly terrified!

If you can get over that initial shock, grab your camera and get the shots. Then put it down and just let yourself stare at them. None of the pictures will do it justice, so burn the site into your memory.

3. Tick off a Bucket List Item

Many travelers have whale watching as a bucket list item. If you don’t have it as one, you should!

A bucket list gives you goals to work toward, beyond education and career, which are fulfilling in their own right. Checking items off can help you work toward your life goals and help create the blueprint for the kind of life you want to live.

4. Help out the Locals

Whale watching isn’t just good for you. It’s good for the locals as well. Many places that have whale watching also depend heavily on tourism. Local fishers can often only fish during their season, and money might run tight when that season is over.

If they’re working with a good company and have a safe boat, going out with the locals can let you in on parts of the area you never would’ve known about otherwise. You can also put money and food into the pockets of the people who live there and depend on the ocean and its inhabitants for their livelihood. No one knows the value of the water more than the people who live on it.

5. You’ll See More Than Whales

When you’re going out on the ocean, you never really know what you’ll see. Doing some extra research before you leave can make the difference between a dull ride out and an exciting one. Look up the whales that are likely to frequent the area.

If you’re off the northwest coast of the U.S. and Canada, you’re probably expecting to see Humpbacks and Orcas, but keep an eye out for other species, too. Seagulls are often a dead giveaway for an area where whales will be, and dolphins might tag along as well.

6. Never Too Old to Learn

It doesn’t matter if you’re eight or 80, whale watching is a chance to learn and experience something new. That’s good for your brain in a lot of ways. You might notice that time seems to slow down while you’re on the boat. You’ll come back from an hour ride feeling like you left a lifetime ago.

Your brain automatically tries to collect all the information when you’re exposed to new things, so instead of going on autopilot, you’re paying attention to everything. Strong emotions develop synapses instantly, so you’re growing your brain even as you’re excited, terrified or moved.

7. Learn How to Help the Animals

When you’re going whale watching, the guides on your boat won’t be standing there silently. Any good tour will be filled with information. On our trip, the guide didn’t just talk about the animals. She told us all about the oceans, the currents, how they were changing with the climate and that the Arctic waters were some of the first to show distress.

It helped drive the point home that our children may never be able to do this, so we have to do more to protect the planet.

8. Promote Eco-Tourism

Tourism, in general, can have a terrible effect on the local people and the native wildlife. Eco-tourism seeks to avoid that, while still bringing in visitors. The tourism of the ocean has some issues, though. The boats and people can disrupt the lives of the whales, which can stress them out and actually put the lives of the pod members at risk.

For that reason, you need to choose a company that has strict guidelines for how they interact with the whales — no feeding, no touching and trips that aren’t too frequent. That helps the company keep the whales around, and it helps the whales themselves to flourish.

9. Tell Everyone

I mean, you’ll want to. You’ll probably tell strangers about it at dinner that night and anyone who sits near you at breakfast. You’ll plaster pictures of it on your Facebook page and call your best friend. Do it! Tell them all!

Tell people how great it was and how much you learned and how terrifyingly thrilling it was. Nothing will get people interested in environmental activities like passion, and you’ll be full of it for years.

10. Gain a New Respect for the Oceans

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, will help you learn to love the oceans the way being on them will. It’s just like this quote from Sylvia Earle says: “No water, no life. No blue, no green.” You’ll never forget just what the blue means.

Whale watching isn’t something you should miss. Go out, book a trip and tell some people. You’ll never regret it.

Oceans

What’s the Outlook for Sustainable Seafood in 2018?

February 8, 2018
Sustainable Seafood in 2018

The seafood sector is a $5.5 billion industry — just in the United States alone. Every year, this number steadily increases as the number of seafood fanatics begins to rise. But while there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a delicious piece of salmon every now and again, the question remains — what will become of the sustainable seafood in 2018 as the desire for these delightful delicacies becomes too high?

While it’s no secret fish is a tasty entrée, the fact of the matter is that our access to seafood is limited. What happens when a resource is restricted? We have to find ways to make it sustainable, of course!

Unlike plants that offer seeds we can harvest while anticipating a fresh new crop every season, fish provides a unique set of complications. There’s no magical seed to toss into the ocean to produce higher levels of this edible delight, so the issue begins to arise — how will we create more seafood?

The Importance of Sustainability

Fish is a wonderful source of protein, and it’s chock-full of feel-good benefits, too — which makes it a top choice for health fanatics and everyday foodies alike. Seafood may just be among the healthiest food options in the world — which explains its incredibly high demand.

While the population of humans who eat this tasty treat steadily grows, the availability of potential seafood in the ocean is on the decline — which is what makes sustainability so significant in the seafood industry. If we want to continue to enjoy eating seafood while receiving our essential daily health benefits, we must adapt to more sustainable practices in the process.

The goal is to have enough fish to feed the world even in 2080. With these new sustainable seafood practices in 2018, the promise of leaving seafood for future generations isn’t just a hope — it’s a reality.

Let’s look at the top four sustainable seafood trends in 2018 that will help provide a more sustainable future, too.

1. The Rising Popularity of Fish Farms With Sustainable Actions

You can’t catch a net full of fish from the sea without replenishing the loss with a new and thriving marine population. That’s where fish farms come into play.

Including fish in one’s everyday meal isn’t a new idea — but the way we catch it has changed drastically over the past several decades. Aquaculture, also known as fish farming, is one of the fastest-growing trends in the sustainable seafood industry.

While it was once common to fish for seafood with a single net or reel, commercial fishing is increasing rapidly to meet the world’s growing demand for this source of protein. However, commercial fishing can be both dangerous and harmful to the environment due to unsustainable practices.

In 2018 and within the next several decades, the fish farm industry will likely rise. One major issue the industry must address is that of overfishing. Wild fish populations need time to repopulate before their availability becomes scarce and nearly nonexistent. Commercial fisheries can focus on more readily available species, while giving others time to recover.

2.  Eating Your Fish on Ice

While it may be enjoyable to eat a freshly caught fish plucked straight from the sea, a frozen fish has just as much flavor and protein. The good news is you don’t have to drive to the coast every time you want a delicious treat — just hit the freezer section of your local supermarket instead.

A common misconception is that a catch has to be fresh to be sustainable or nutritious, when in fact, the opposite is true. Did you know frozen seafood has a higher level of sustainability than a freshly caught fish? On top of its environmental benefits, the taste level of frozen fish compared to its healthier counterparts demonstrates a catch that is just as delicious, too.

The stigma of eating fish from a can or freezer will one day be a thing of the past. Even most chefs would agree a frozen fish is just as tasty and healthy as a fish straight from the sea. Plus, the added convenience and longer shelf life of these options mean a longevity of use and less wastefulness in the seafood industry.

3.   Insects for Feed

If we project global food needs far into the future, the question remains if there will be enough seafood to meet the rising demands for fish.

In the last few decades, fish consumption has steadily been on the rise and continues to represent higher levels of per capita fish consumption each year. The primary issue is having enough feed to produce healthy seafood and support the growing population’s demands for seafood meals.

As the year kicks off, it’s likely the seafood industry will see a higher use of more sustainable feeds. Viable alternatives, such as insects and microalgae, are replacing current feeds such as fish oil or various meals composed of different wild species.

To have enough fish to feed the world, it’s important to have enough food to feed the fish, too. More natural feeds address previous challenges posed by unsustainable feeds and produce a plethora of greater health benefits, as well.

4. Increased Preference for Locally Caught Seafood

Although sustainable seafood focuses on the preservation of the current marine population, that doesn’t mean the industry isn’t looking to improve its impact on the environmental community at large, too.

While the greenhouse gas emissions caused by international shipping currently are only a meager 3 percent, the International Maritime Organization is looking to take action on its environmental impact — sometime this year.

The public can anticipate a statement from the government regarding this year’s climate strategy that may just make consuming locally caught fish and seafood far more ideal. As the industry looks to cut emissions, one of the resulting measures could potentially be an increased cost of imported seafood.

As with any sector of the food industry, producers are continually seeking ways to reduce the environmental impact of providing our daily and fundamental basic life necessities — seafood included.

The key to enjoying your seafood with utmost satisfaction regarding health benefits and sustainability is to inform yourself about the products you consume beforehand. As the seafood industry steps into a new year, it’s essential to develop and advance the most sustainable and eco-friendly practices to ensure even future generations can have a bite of the sea, too.

Oceans

How Citizen Science Affects Ocean Health

January 15, 2018
Citizen science affects ocean health

Subject to legends, ruled by gods and viewed as the source of life, the vast ocean continues to captivate humanity’s heart and mind. The ocean’s depths and extent boggle scientists on the issue of collecting adequate levels of data. Buoys and satellites provide a measure of assistance, but citizen scientists offer the most potential to gain the data necessary for analysis and exploration.

Citizen science affects ocean health, and citizen scientific assistance with data-gathering will benefit the wellness of the ocean and its diverse lifeforms. Globalizing citizen scientist initiatives provides the answer to gathering data needed to protect and heal the oceans.

Asking Sailors to Gather Data

Sailors travel far and wide across the oceans, carrying cargo, fishing and enjoying the scenery — going farther than many researchers on a daily basis. Therefore, it only makes sense that scientists are asking sailors to gather data. The process entails attaching cheap, small sampling instruments to sailboats, cargo vessels or yachts. The collected data enables scientists to reach more accurate weather forecasts and climate change models. At sea, rescuers may quickly locate lost boats and planes thanks to this data.

Ocean research vessels cost over $30,000 daily to operate, plus the cost of the research team and processing the gathered data. Gliders and other environmental sample processors fill data gaps to a small degree, but often end up as ocean trash unless retrieved after an operation. Most research happens in the top 330 feet of the sea, and expanding research teams and budgets only helps a little. Asking sailors to contribute their mileage along with data goes a long way in increasing scientific data analysis and eliminating the use of models based on inferences.

The Ocean Abundant Awaits Citizen Scientists

Why not use satellites to measure the vast oceans? Satellite technology allows scientists to measure the globe, but what’s below the surface proves more difficult — darkness, heavy ocean pressure and gravity present obstacles.

Unlike mapping land details, the ocean blocks radio waves from satellites. Only 0.05 percent of the sea is mapped, roughly the size of Tasmania — with details good enough to locate airplane wreckage and undersea volcano vents. The sea floor is only mapped to a resolution of 5 km. Sonar systems on ships map a resolution of nearly 100 meters, and sailors and other citizen scientists are ideal to help with the job of mapping.

The ocean consumes 71 percent of the Earth’s surface while 95 percent of the ocean remains unexplored in detail. Everything below that 330 feet holds potential and knowledge yet unknown. Citizen science affects ocean health by gathering vital data that even technology can’t produce at this time.

Citizen Scientists Help Study Phytoplankton

The Secchi Study, through the Plymouth University Marine Institute, serves as one of the most extensive marine projects spearheaded by citizen scientists. Gathered data is produced by anglers, divers and sailors to map the sea’s phytoplankton, which are experiencing an increasing decline possibly due to climate change. Citizen scientists upload their data to the Secchi app in the form of photos and notes on ocean clarity, GPS location, water temperature and sea life observations. Those who participate have access to all the data submitted, as well as the institute.

Many researchers tasked with monitoring water quality at the opening of major riverway systems don’t possess enough resources to monitor it from river to stream to watershed. Citizen scientists who track water quality on a local basis help these researchers maintain quality water systems for all. Citizen scientists may each monitor a stream or lake, while a larger network tracks the quality of a watershed. Local impact on the oceans may be measured and contaminants stopped from the onset.

Watershed maps allow researchers and citizen scientists to trace stream and river paths to the ocean. Citizen scientists could link their local observations with NASA’s satellite observations of marine phytoplankton blooms to identify dead zones. The satellites cannot track dead zones directly, but citizen scientists can monitor chlorophyll concentration in the surface waters and watch for variations to track impact.

Citizen Scientists Provide Insight on Warming Oceans and Sea Life

Citizen scientists conducting thousands of surveys as part of a major study discovered that increasing ocean temperatures threaten shallow reef systems worldwide. The Reef Life Survey followed over 200 divers as they surveyed 2,406 sites around the world in 44 countries. The survey allowed researchers to gather data on an unprecedented global level over the past 10 years.

The data contributed to researcher understanding of various factors determining the effectiveness of marine-protected sites globally. An intrinsic insight from the survey revealed the link between the ratios of invertebrates to fish in a given ecosystem. Colder water habitats hold more invertebrates, while warmer waters contain more fish. As the oceans warm from climate change, researchers believe fish distribution will shift worldwide toward the poles and deeper oceans, where outsider fish compete with local fish populations.

Citizen scientists are vital to predict and protect the global impact of such factors on ocean health. They help improve researcher and public knowledge of how the ocean and Earth respond to change.

Student Citizen Scientists Help Endangered Eels

What do a bunch of kids holding a bucket in a creek have to do with science?  This year, in Poughkeepsie, New York, area high school and college students donning rubber waders shifted through the freshwaters to pull up baby eels as citizen scientists on a mission. These young scientists monitored freshwater eel populations through the Hudson River Eel Project, created nearly a decade ago as researchers noted a reduction in eel catching as of 2008.

Historically, eels provided sustenance for humans, birds and other eels. Recently, many countries noted a reduction in eel populations due to overfishing, such as in Japan. As eels migrate into local eastern waterways from the sea, culverts and dams stop their progression upstream — also blocking food sources for ocean mammals, birds and fish. Baby eels maturing in freshwater environments contribute to the health of local ecosystems. Losing the baby eel populations means a major impact on local environments and the ocean.

The reduction of eel populations in Asian countries leads to a market in the United States where the eel may be overfished locally to fulfill supply and demand. Legalized eel fishing prevails only in South Carolina and Maine, but poaching increasingly concerns researchers. They don’t have the resources to produce the data needed to protect the eel population, but student citizen scientists are saving the endangered eels one bucket at a time.

Citizen scientists of all ages are vital to increasing the understanding of how oceans and the Earth respond to change, especially via human impact. Citizen science affects ocean health directly through the analysis of data gathered in local waterways and ecosystems, and the knowledge determined is a direct result of citizen scientists who take part in an all-hands-on-deck effort.Powerful satellites and technology produce astonishing findings, but the vast, unexplored places of this Earth have always been meant for human eyes alone.

Oceans

What Can We Realistically Do to Fight Sea Level Rise?

December 22, 2017
fight sea level rise

Climate change is heralding a new age of unpredictable weather and changing worldwide topography. We don’t know what will happen as we deal with the consequences of our excessive fossil fuel use. What we do know is that climate change is not some distant reality. It’s happening now, and it’s happening faster in some areas than in others.

One of the more concrete concerns associated with global climate change is sea level rise. We know warming the planet is causing the oceans to rise. What we don’t know is how much, how soon or how to stop it. The reality is, we can’t halt climate change altogether. We’ve gone too far for that, and our current CO2 levels are at or above 410 parts per million. That’s far above what we need to maintain to have a stable global temperature. Since CO2 takes anywhere from 20 to 200 years for a majority of the gas to disappear from the atmosphere, we’ve already done the damage. Now, we’re facing the question of what we can do about it.

Flood Preparation

The first and most important thing to do is evaluate and determine which areas are most at risk for increased floods. Rising ocean levels will push people out of their homes, forcing them to relocate. Flooding of low-lying wetlands and sanctuaries is a serious concern, and native species will struggle to find suitable habitats in their forced migrations. The salt water can also contaminate underground aquifers that are close to the coast, as well as damaging the soil.

On top of that, ocean surges will become stronger and more devastating, hitting areas that were safe five years earlier. One study predicts coastal flooding may increase by 50 percent by 2050. Some islands that are low enough may vanish entirely, and islands that don’t may have their land mass drastically reduced. Another study found that with enough meltwater, the oceans could rise enough to completely submerge London.

Lower Emissions

While carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas people talk about because of its long lifespan, there are others that also contribute to climate change. These are often shorter-lived gases like methane, which only remains in the air for about 12 years. These gases, dubbed “short-lived climate pollutants,” are not as big a factor in the long term, but they still contribute to climate change. By slowing or eliminating their output, we can mitigate sea level rise.

To fight sea level rise, we need to address the areas that are warming the most quickly. The Arctic is especially at risk. In some cases, the Arctic may be warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Arctic ice also has the highest risk of turning to meltwater — such as the Greenland ice sheet, which is the one that could flood London.

One study found reducing soot and methane production by about 30 to 60 percent could slow sea level rise by a whopping 18 percent. That’s a significant difference, and could give people and animals more time to adjust to the rapidly changing environment. Reducing emissions could be incredibly beneficial for the millions who live in coastal cities like New York City, London and Miami, among others.

The downside is that limiting these short-term pollutants can slow sea level rise, but it can’t reverse the process of climate change. To do that, we need to find ways to remove CO2 and other pollutants from the air at a faster rate than we can put them in. At the rate we are currently producing, that is next to impossible. But it’s not stopping anyone from trying!

Marine Solutions

The ocean is the biggest carbon sink on the planet. The only reason CO2 doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years is that the sea sucks it up. An increase in CO2 means the oceans are becoming more acidic, which is also killing off marine life. We know nothing soaks up CO2 the way plants do. That’s why people are seriously looking at manufacturing vast kelp farms, both to harvest for food and to help reduce CO2 in the air and oceans. Enough farms may eventually make a global difference, but only if people take a real interest in the product.

Innovation

Besides everyone cutting down on emissions, individual cities may be able to engineer their way out of danger. Some of the ideas people are now exploring are nothing short of inspired. In the Netherlands, floating neighborhoods and farms are reminiscent of the movie Waterworld.

Dubai and the UAE have been creating human-made islands for a while now, although the UAE is the only country to have completed the project. That knowledge of how to create a livable space where there wasn’t one could help countries and islands regain some of their landmasses.

We might be stuck with climate change for now, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. We can still mitigate the damage we do, fight sea level rise and decrease the extremes we experience as a result. Since the problem is already here, we might as well try to make it a little bit better.

Oceans

Why Have We Explored More of Outer Space Than the Ocean?

November 10, 2017
explored more of space than the ocean

You’d think we know more about the planet we live on than the vast openness of outer space, right? It makes sense, after all, we spend every waking hour on this Earth. Surely, we can’t have explored more of space than the ocean, right?

You might be surprised to find out that we can explain a whole lot more about space — at least the areas we know and can explore — than the ocean. How’s that for some food for thought?

Wait, what? We know more about space than the ocean?

Consider the Evidence

The ocean makes up 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, and yet a ridiculous 95 percent is completely unexplored by humans. When you put it that way, it seems much more plausible that unknown creatures — such as the Loch Ness monster — exist out there.

Since 1969, a total of 12 people have made the trip to the moon. Let’s compare that to the Marianas Trench — one of the deepest trenches in the ocean — which only a total of three people have explored. One of those three was filmmaker James Cameron who spent $10 million of his own money to finance the trip.

Of course, one could argue that the entire ocean floor has been mapped by imaging equipment. Technically, we know everything about the bottom of the sea floor, right? Except, the mapping hardware was only used at a resolution of up to five kilometers, or three miles. What does that mean? Well, anything larger than five kilometers has not been documented or mapped.

This means there’s still a lot— especially of smaller size — that we have yet to explore and uncover. Furthermore, no one has actually scoured every inch of the ocean floor. This is just imaging hardware and software we’re talking about here, so it’s entirely possible something was missed. You could make the same comparison for outer space, as we’ve only ever explored the local solar system. Sure, the Hubble telescope and similar equipment can give us a glimpse of faraway locations, but that’s all it is a quick glimpse. We don’t actually know what’s out there, just like we don’t know everything that’s beneath the ocean’s surface.

It does beg the question: Why do we know more about space, an alien plane than we do about our planet, or more specifically, the vast ocean that inhabits the Earth with us?

Why Don’t We Explore the Ocean?

For starters, there’s a lot of it to cover, and even though we’ve had the time and likely resources to do so, it would be incredibly expensive. Only about 0.05 percent of the ocean has been mapped with the highest resolution of sonar imaging. Why don’t we just do the rest?

Because it’s not that simple. Even more difficult to understand is the fact that we can’t get down there to explore with our eyes. In some places, the pressure of the ocean and gravity equals that of 50 jumbo jets resting right on top of you. And that’s before you even consider the fact that at great depths there is absolutely no visibility. It’s not just a matter of presenting a light source; it’s also about how far said light can stretch, which at the bottom of the ocean is not very far.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening. Already scientists and researchers are planning to map and explore the far reaches of the ocean floor. Thanks to modern technology the process can be much more efficient and accurate. We may even be able to locate valuable resources that can be retrieved for use back on the surface, such as copper, nickel, and cobalt.

It will, however, take quite a bit of time, dedication, and resources including money. More importantly, it will take a lot of scientists and researchers working together to achieve one common goal, but it may be possible that one day we will no longer have explored more of space than of the ocean.