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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.


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.


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.


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.


Sustainable Seafood Myths and Misconceptions Part 2

September 22, 2017
Sustainable Seafood

There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions about sustainable seafood, as we looked at in the first part of this article. The disinformation is particularly frustrating because so many people are interested in eating fish! Fish is a healthier option than meats higher in fats, such as beef and pork. It harmonizes well with vegetables, which health-conscious consumers are continuing to add to their diets.

Sustainable seafood farms are an increasingly visible means of ensuring fish aren’t caught to the point of extinction. More than 30 percent of fisheries are currently overexploited, meaning the catch causes a decline in the population that isn’t replenished.

Sustainability, as applied to seafood, means catching fish in a way that doesn’t contribute to the decimation of the marine population. In the most basic way, sustainability means that, for every salmon someone eats, another one is being raised. And the same is true of tilapia, shrimp, sardines and so on. One way to ensure sustainability is through farms, or aquaculture.

Well, myth-busting is an honorable profession. So let’s apply it to the myths of sustainable seafood.

Fish Farming Causes Environmental Degradation and Unhealthy Fish

As we discussed before, sustainable seafood can be more harmful to the environment and raise unhealthy fish.

The truth is, however, fish farming varies in environmental responsibility, just like land farming does. Some farms conduct responsible, ethical aquaculture. In contrast, some farms care more about maximizing profit, and their employees have less training and supervision.

The good news is that the industry is very aware of the challenges in fish farming. With a little bit more progress, we can ensure everyone is following the leading practices today.

Some countries, like Iceland, have perfected a method of fish farming that relies on recirculated water, so the fish are swimming and eliminating in the same relatively small amount of water. This technique cuts down on disease and environmental threat.

Some scientists are developing methods of farming fish in large tanks, on land. This will eliminate any threat of water pollution or species threat. If the tanks use recirculated water, the fish can remain healthy.

The answer? Be responsible when shopping for fish. Know which farms practice ethical, genuinely sustainable and environmentally healthy methods.

The Most Sustainable Catch Is in Specialty Stores

People interested in environmentally sound purchasing practices should know the best places to purchase sustainable fish.

Is it at a fishmonger’s, a specialty store or near the ocean? A farmers’ market that includes seafood? Not necessarily.

Startlingly enough, some of the largest food retailers in the U.S. have the best record in supplying sustainable seafood: Target, Safeway, Wegman’s and Whole Foods. Many Americans are close to at least one of these retailers. Sustainable seafood is no further than a drive away.

The Catch Has to Be Fresh to Be Sustainable

This myth is not true at all. Food mavens who follow trends on sustainable seafood point out frozen seafood is just as sustainable as the stuff at the fish counter. It fact, frozen seafood may have a greater proportion of sustainably caught fish. Remember, many large retailers are leading the seafood sustainability parade. Plus, even chefs believe that frozen fish is just as good as the catch of the day, and equally healthy.

The same is true of some canned seafood. Again, the answer is to be informed. Canned seafood is just as sustainable as the most sustainable fish.

Yes, some canned fish has been subject to health scandals in the past, like mercury contamination. For tilapia, salmon, trout and tuna, that’s all in the past.

Sustainable Fish Is More Expensive

This myth is also resoundingly busted. Sustainability, after all, just means the fish are being raised with the idea of being used by humans, ultimately, and with being replenished. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the type is exotic and therefore expensive.

Some sustainable seafood can be expensive. Ninety percent of shrimp in the United States, for example, is raised in farms. But its expense is related to its being shrimp, not the sustainability. Catfish is also largely farm-raised and is less expensive than shrimp.

The key for consumers is to shop for cheaper varieties of seafood that are sustainable.

Around the world, our oceans and rivers have been widely fished, leading to fears of overfishing. While many people want to eat seafood because of its health benefits, they also want it to be sustainably raised to avoid the extinction of seafood. Yet myths and misconceptions about sustainable seafood abound.

While there are some environmental and health concerns with fish farming, best practices also exist. Consumers need to be informed about what companies follow the best practices and purchase their products. Look for these products at mainstream retailers, and in frozen and canned varieties.


Sustainable Seafood Myths and Misconceptions Part 1

September 18, 2017
Sustainable Seafood

Fish are a great source of protein, but they are a limited resource.

Humans have to eat. Food supplies us with the energy and sustenance we need to get through our days. It allows us to grow up big and strong so that we can accomplish daily tasks and strive for and fulfill our dreams. In the U.S., we have developed ways to ensure our food is readily available and that we don’t have to work too hard to get it.

Since the advent of agriculture, humans have grown crops and domesticated animals for a supply of food close at hand. With industrialization, we’ve developed ways to mass-produce food to feed large groups of people. From stores to restaurants to our homes, we have easy access to food supplies.

As the human population grows in the U.S. and around the world, we have to find ways to ensure everyone gets enough to eat. One of the best and least expensive sources of protein is fish. It is considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet. However, with increasing demands for more fish for food, we have to find sustainable and economical ways to provide people with the nutrition they need and not annihilate fish populations.

Developing Fish Farms: A Sustainable Way to Provide the World With Fish?

One way that has been proposed to solve the not-enough-fish problem is by developing fish farms. Humans and humanoids have depended on creatures that live in the water as a food source for a long time — going back as far as 200,000 BC. We continue to practice fishing today, both on individual levels and commercial levels. However, on a commercial level, fishing is dangerous and makes an impact on the environment.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about fish farming and the pros and cons of raising fish for food in this way. It seems like fish farming is a new idea, but in reality, it has been around for thousands of years. A Chinese man named Fan Lai wrote a book in 475 BC to instruct others on how to raise fish for food. In Germany in 1733, a farmer successfully fertilized eggs, hatched the eggs and then raised the fish for food. Since then, the practice of fish farming has evolved and advanced.

Fish farms can benefit the environment by lessening the impact on wild fish populations, allowing species that have been overfished or are being threatened with overfishing to recover. Fish farms also create jobs and benefit local economies.

Issues With Fish Farms: More Harmful to the Environment Than Natural Fishing?

There are a several different ways to raise fish for food. For instance, the fish might be contained in small ponds or lakes or in pens/cages in the ocean. The species that are raised in these environments include catfish, tilapia, salmon, shrimp, mollusks and algae, among others.

Despite the fact that fish farms have existed for a long time, there are some problems with modern fish farming practices. The way the fish are raised can impact their health and how healthy they are for us. If fish are raised in small tanks crowded with large populations or fed diets that aren’t healthy, they probably aren’t going to be the healthiest fish for us to consume.

Problems that can arise on fish farms include pollution, disease, farmed species accidentally being released into the wild and sea lice. All of these impact the environment the fish live in and their bodies, which, in turn, can impact us.

Finding Sustainable Seafood Solutions

There are no easy solutions when it comes to our environment and sustainability. We have to eat, which means we have to either get our food from the wild or grow it. Both of these methods impact the environment and animal populations. The best way to reduce the impact is to make informed decisions and develop sustainable practices when it comes to food.

No matter what, our desire for seafood has affected the ocean and its delicate natural balance. If we want to sustain our desires and the health of the oceans and the world, we must find a balance between wild-caught fish and farmed fish.

As technology advances and better techniques are developed, it’s possible that aquaculture will become a better solution for our fish needs. Until then, we must continue to work together to develop better practices and make choices that ensure our health and the health of the environment.


What Makes the Arctic Ocean Different From Other Oceans?

August 25, 2017
Arctic Ocean Different

The Arctic Ocean conjures up images of expansive ice, frigid waters and diverse wildlife on its frozen shores. Today, though, we often see photos of polar bears, one of the Arctic’s most famous residents, standing on ever-shrinking patches of ice due to global warming.

The Arctic Ocean is indeed a unique place. Its inhospitable climate and extensive ice coverage make it difficult to explore, so we know less about it than we do about Earth’s other oceans. However, we do know there are several distinct things that set it apart.

A Frigid Climate

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the Arctic Ocean and other oceans is its cold climate. There are some other unique things about its temperature, though.

Permanent sea ice is one of the Arctic Ocean’s unique attributes. The temperature of the air in the Arctic can fall as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Recently, though, it’s been rising above averages — far enough to break records. Scientists warn this drop in temperature is due to climate change. This is altering the Arctic environment and leading to lower levels of ice.

In the Atlantic and Pacific, the water gets colder as it goes deeper. In the Arctic, this pattern is reversed. Because the warm seawater that flows in from the Atlantic is denser than other Arctic water, it sinks below the surface.

According to a study led by a University of Alaska researcher, global warming is causing this to change, too. As ice melts, winds mix up the surface water more than usual. This creates a feedback loop in which warmer water rises to the surface, due to melting ice. The warmer water, in turn, melts more ice. The change is making the Arctic Ocean more like the Atlantic — a process researchers call “Atlantification.”

A Diverse Ecosystem

Polar Bears

Despite the Arctic’s harsh conditions, it supports a wide variety of life — from marine mammals to fish to crustaceans. Life thrives from the sea floor to the upper layers of the water. Creatures that live on land, such as polar bears, also depend on marine mammals for food.

Polar bears typically eat seals, of which there are many species in the Arctic. You can also find whales, sharks, rays, snow crabs and around 240 species of fish.

The Arctic Ocean also often has a fair amount of non-native species that don’t grow and reproduce there. The water that flows in from other oceans brings these species, and while they can survive there for a time, they can’t live there year-round.

Pollution and Climate Change

While climate change impacts the entire planet, it has an especially strong effect on the Arctic Ocean. In fact, the Arctic is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

The sea’s rapidly melting ice has become a symbol for global warming. It also plays a big part in why the Arctic is warming so quickly. The area’s ice and snow typically reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere. As the reflective ice disappears, the land absorbs more sunlight, which causes more ice to melt. This cycle will lead to rising sea levels around the world.

Climate change is also causing oceans to become more acidic because of the increased amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed into the water. This damages marine life’s shells, as well as coral reefs, which are home to a huge number of species. In colder oceans like the Arctic, this acidification happens twice as fast.

The Arctic Ocean’s frozen waters inspire wonder and reveal some truly unique parts of our world. Those characteristics, however, are disappearing as the planet warms. As ice melts, sea levels rise and species die, these changes will affect not only the Arctic, but also the rest of the world.


Deep-Seafloor: The New Frontier

August 4, 2017

The oceans are an essential resource that the U.S. and other countries need to maintain and explore. Not everyone realizes it, but the world depends on the ocean. Awareness about the deep-seafloor is usually in connection to stopping trash from ending up around the necks of sea turtles, in the guts of seagulls or from joining the Pacific Ocean’s garbage patch.

It’s time to find out just why the world needs to explore its oceans more. And now is the time to take charge of the water and learn from it. We’ll then be able to predict weather patterns, animal migration or even the next catastrophic event, such as a hurricane or tsunami, with more accuracy than ever before.

It Starts With Mapping

Getting an accurate map of the ocean floor is vital to understanding the power and life it holds. It’s common knowledge that people have only explored about five percent of the world’s waters, but why? Without the right technology, and accurate maps, scientists can’t learn more about the ocean anytime soon.

So, what’s being done to create accurate, helpful maps of the seafloor? In June 2017, Seabed 2030 started the first effort to create a single, comprehensive map of the ocean floor. That’s 140 million square miles, for anyone who’s counting.

As the name suggests, the project won’t finish until at least 2030. The biggest issue when mapping the ocean floor is salt water. Modern technology has a hard time reaching through the water to the depths of the sea, which is why we know more about the surface of other planets than Earth’s five oceans.

It Continues With Gravity

While projects like Seabed 2030 are happening, there are others that are mapping the ocean from a different perspective.

Using Earth’s magnetic field, an international scientific team created a topographic map using gravity. This new map will aid people that sail shipping cargo into or out of the U.S. by preventing accidents where boats run into an undetected shallow seabed, also known as ship grounding.

This effort strengthens the American economy and infrastructure because the global trade market is key to the country’s operations. Other maps can also base their starting point off of the now-known topographical one, which makes the mapping process even faster for other scientists.

It Concludes With Science

The more scientists learn about oceans, the more the world benefits from their findings.

Researchers can use maps to chart exploratory trips to find out more about sea life, but they can also harvest natural minerals like copper, nickel and cobalt. These untapped mines could contain more than what exists on land, expanding the lifetime of the mineral marketplace and potentially reducing inflated prices.

Investments into ocean mapping by countries, like the U.S., would give those who reach the resources first a boost to their global market and economy. Mining marine resources could also create more jobs as facilities and techniques are developed to bring the minerals back to land.

Understanding what’s beneath the ocean floor would also expand the science community’s understanding of fish migrations. Plus the shape of the seafloor impacts when and where tsunamis will happen. Understanding this could lead to more accurate weather warnings.

Creating a map of the entire ocean floor is the new space-race for scientists and countries worldwide. Researchers want to know what’s underneath the boats and ships cruising across the water, and will soon find out what’s at the bottom of the newest frontier. It’ll just take time, dedication and a lot of science.


Can We Save the Great Barrier Reef?

July 28, 2017
Great Barrier Reef

Coral reefs are hot dive spots all around the world, and the Great Barrier Reef is among the best of the best. It’s the largest reef system in the world, consisting of about 3,000 separate reefs all clustered together.

Coral reefs are kind of like the rainforests of the ocean. They house the most marine life while taking up the smallest amount of space on the sea floor. This makes them incredibly important for the entire marine ecosystem.

They can be hazards for surfers and ships, but they are life support systems for the rest of the ocean. This is why the coral bleaching events are so worrisome, and what brings us to the question of whether or not we can save the Great Barrier Reef.

The Symbiosis

Coral bleaching occurs as a result of stressors. This might not be a surprise, but coral doesn’t adapt to change very quickly. When it gets stressed, like it does when oceanic temperatures rise, it spits out something called zooxanthellae. These are tiny, plant like organisms that give the corals their color and perform photosynthesis, providing the coral with nutrients.

When those zooxanthellae get expelled from the coral, it can no longer get those nutrients. If the stressor isn’t removed from the environment quickly enough, the coral will eventually either starve to death or die of infection. Bleached coral isn’t dead. It’s just close to it.

Global Bleaching Events

The greatest coral bleaching event ever recorded started in 2015 and is still going. Technically, it’s been several bleaching events, but they have impacted some of the same reefs for multiple years, which isn’t exactly allowing the coral to recover. The Great Barrier Reef is one of those coral colonies that’s been hit for the past few years, and it’s dying as a result.

A whopping 29 percent of the Great Barrier Reef died as a consequence of the 2016 bleaching event. The reef might not be dead yet, but we sure are making strides at killing it. The problem with this is two-fold. Of course, we’re killing off the coral, but we’re killing it much faster than it can regrow. At the same time, we haven’t stopped warming the atmosphere and, therefore, the water.

There’s No Stopping It

You might have realized by now that scientists aren’t debating if climate change is real or not. Rather, it’s a case of how bad it might be. The reason for this is simple. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is being expelled in mass amounts, about 2.4 million pounds per second. Even if we were to stop all greenhouse gas emissions this exact second, it wouldn’t be enough because CO2 sticks around — and around, and around. It takes anywhere from 20 to 200 years for it to dissolve back into the ocean and stop warming our planet. There’s simply not enough time.

So, if the waters continue to warm, as they are expected to do, and we can’t stop our production of greenhouse gases — let alone start removing them from the air — it makes sense that we’ll continue to lose the coral reefs.

Now, this isn’t to say that we’ll lose all the coral reefs everywhere. There is some chance that corals will adapt to the rise in temperature if it stays below 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the diversity of coral would be greatly diminished, and any remaining semblance of the Great Barrier Reef would be a ghost of its former glory.

Can We Save the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef will not survive climate change. The obituaries that were written for it as a publicity stunt to draw attention will turn out to be more accurate than the authors imagined. The truth is, the Great Barrier Reef has created its own ecosystem. When it dies, and the ecosystem will inevitably also die. It took 25 million years to build it, and we will have destroyed it in a century.

The fact that we can’t stop the inevitable death of the reefs shouldn’t be enough to prevent us from trying. We can still help some coral survive, but we can’t do it by pretending climate change isn’t real. Each person needs to take responsibility for their actions and the actions of others. We might not be able to preserve our planet the way it is now, but we can certainly help it recuperate for the future.


How to Rebuild an Ecosystem: A Look at White Sharks in California Bight

July 7, 2017

Great white shark sightings are on the rise in the Southern California Bight, the area of coastal waters that stretches from Santa Barbara to the U.S.-Mexico border. And it’s not because they’ve developed a taste for human flesh. It’s due to the fact that the species’ population has made an impressive comeback in the past 20 or so years.

Although this news may be frightening to many beachgoers, scientists say it’s a good thing. Good for the sharks, of course, but also a fantastic sign for the health of the Southern California Bight ecosystem.

The Tale of the Great White

The white shark, also known as the great white, is the biggest predatory fish on the planet and typically grows to about 15 feet long. They live in cool, coastal waters around the world. Their prey consists of animals such as seals, sea lions and small toothed whales.

Due to their hunting skills, pop culture and real-life depictions attacks, white sharks have gained a reputation as bloodthirsty killers. While there are around 50 to 75 great white attacks on humans each year, they are rarely fatal, and research shows that white sharks don’t actually want to eat humans.

In fact, humans are more of a threat to the sharks than the other way around. Overfishing and accidentally snaring them in gill nets, poor water quality and a decline in prey populations has led to them being listed as a vulnerable species, the least dire of the threatened classifications.

While exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, research suggests that white shark populations have risen in the past two decades.

How White Sharks Have Come Back

A number of factors have contributed to the return of the great white, including laws affecting fishing and water quality.

1972’s Clean Water Act regulated the release of pollutants into water and set standards for water quality, which helped restore the white shark’s habitat.

In 1994, California gave white sharks a special protected status that prohibited fishing them for either commercial or recreational reasons. As of 2004, a similar federal regulation also requires those who accidentally catch them to release great white sharks immediately and prohibits attempting to attract the sharks at all. In 1994, California also banned coastal gillnetting, which reduced the number of sharks that died as bycatch.

The 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act put further restrictions on overfishing. The restrictions helped reduce bycatch and rebuild the food webs of marine species. In 1999, the Marine Life Protection Act created a series of protected habitats that helped the white shark thrive.

What This Means for the California Bight Ecosystem

California gave the great white a special protected status because of the important role it plays in the state’s marine ecosystem. White sharks are predators at the top of the food chain, which means they’re crucial for controlling the populations of all of the other species in the system. Without them, the ecosystem could become unbalanced.

Great whites also have naturally low reproduction levels, which makes them especially vulnerable to overfishing. The South California Blight area is especially important for the population of great whites. They use it, as well as other coastal areas, as nurseries where baby sharks learn to hunt fish.

Great white sharks are crucial to the health of the ecosystems they live in. The growth of their population is a promising sign that efforts to rebuild the ocean environment is working. Not to mention, they help control Southern California’s stingray population, which cause many more injuries to beachgoers than sharks do.


How We Are Protecting Sea Turtles: A Round-up From World Sea Turtle Day

June 20, 2017

Celebrated this year on June 16, World Sea Turtle Day isn’t just about fawning over turtle hatchlings making their successful and too adorable crawls to sea. This day offers the world the opportunity to learn more about why humans have been captivated by these creatures since ancient times.

Practically all sea turtle species have been classified as endangered and suffer from dangers of being slaughtered for their shells, skin and meat. Once, we exalted sea turtles as ancient creatures. They’ve been on this planet for over 100 million years, outliving the dinosaurs.

Some turtles only weigh 80 pounds, but others weigh in at over 1,000 pounds. They reside in oceans around the world, touching human hearts and history. Here’s a round-up of how the world has protected sea turtles on World Sea Turtle Day:

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