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Posts Tagged ‘marine’

Pinkeye Goby / Bryaninops natans

Photo: Christian Gloor
By living fast and dying young, red eye gobies fuel reef fish biomass production, which helps explain why reefs can flourish in nutrient-poor waters.

You don’t have to be big to be important. Consider the tiny red-eyed goby, a fish that is vital to coral reefs. For years, scientists couldn’t figure out how there could be such lush biodiversity on coral reefs in clear, low-nutrient waters.

Turns out the answer was hiding under their noses.

Leila Miller writes at the Los Angeles Times, “It’s one of the enduring mysteries of marine biology: How can coral reefs sustain such diverse ecosystems when they are surrounded by clear, low-nutrient waters? Now scientists think they’ve found the answer, and it’s been hiding in plain sight all along.

“The coral reef food chain is powered by some of the ocean’s smallest vertebrates — tiny fish that are gobbled up so quickly they’ve been easy to overlook.

“These fish are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but they play an almost heroic role in sustaining coral reefs, according to a study published this month in the journal Science. In fact, these little swimmers account for almost 60% of the fish flesh eaten on reefs, researchers found.

“ ‘They’re really like high-octane fuel for larger fish,’ said study leader Simon Brandl, a marine ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. …

“Coral reefs are like underwater rain forests — they’re incredibly diverse and are home to more than 6,000 species of fish, Brandl said. Yet the nutrients needed to maintain this abundance of life seemed to be lacking. …

“Brandl and his colleagues make a strong case that high turnover of tiny fish is an important part of the story, said Douglas McCauley, a marine biologist at UC Santa Barbara who did not work on the study. …

“The tiny fish hatch from eggs, and within a day or so, the larvae are old enough to find their own food. Then they have to grow up and reproduce within a month or two — before they get eaten. …

“The females have another problem to contend with: low egg counts. Their small bodies can produce only about 100 eggs at a time, on average, while larger fish may lay tens or hundreds of thousands.

“ ‘It didn’t seem to add up,’ said senior author David Bellwood, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. ‘How on Earth did they survive?’

“In a word: larvae. … While the larvae of most coral reef fish wander out into the open ocean to escape predators on reefs, the larvae of cryptobenthic fish hang out near the reef as they mature. This seems to dramatically enhance their survival and return rates, Brandl said. …

“It may seem surprising that scientists didn’t know where more than half of the fish food supply was coming from, but at any given moment, the tiny fish make up only a minuscule percentage of the total fish flesh on a reef. The key was to see that the population replenished itself so quickly, [Luke Tornabene, a fish biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who worked on the study] said.”

Read more at the Times, here.

Hat tip: Matt Stiles‏ on Twitter.

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nwhi-full_1

Photo: Smithsonian
A surfeit of carbon in the oceans is destroying coral reefs, home to a wide variety of marine life. But a few reefs may offer lessons for survival.

Earlier this month, I posted about an improbably successful coral reef in the busy harbor of Cartagena in South America. Scientists were thinking that if they could figure out why the reef was doing well despite inimical conditions, they might be able to save other reefs.

Now comes a story about scientists finding hopeful reefs in the Pacific Ocean and elsewhere.

Josh Gabbatiss reports at the UK’s Independent, “Sections of coral in the Pacific and the Caribbean are fighting back against the global threats that have decimated reefs worldwide. While the discovery does not allow any room for complacency in the fight to save the world’s reefs from extinction, scientists are tentatively optimistic about what they can learn from these pockets of resistance.

“Climate change, hurricanes and human activities such as intensive fishing have destroyed vast swathes of the planet’s reefs, but in a new study scientists found this destruction was not uniform. …

” ‘There are a number of reasons why one coral reef might survive while its neighbour dies,’ said Dr James Guest, a coral reef researcher at Newcastle University who led the study. ‘It could be that the location is simply better for survival – deeper water that is outside the storm tracks, for example.’

“Coral reefs might also possess certain biological characteristics that make them able to resist damage, or characteristics of their environment may allow them to rebuild themselves effectively following damage. …

“These findings were laid out in a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology that explored dozens of these cases from tropical regions around the world. …

“The study’s lead author, Professor Peter Edmunds from California State University, Northridge, [says], ‘There are kernels of hope in places where corals are doing better, or where they are doing less badly than elsewhere and these places provide us with a focus of attention that might be used to enhance coral conservation efforts.’ …

“Scientists have voiced the need for ‘radical interventions’ such as genetic modification of corals.”

OK, I’ll let you read the rest at the Independent while I ponder the metaphors here.

Since my sister’s surgery and her diagnosis of a serious kind of cancer, I feel like I’m living in metaphor, by which I mean a couple things. For example, I can’t read about certain reefs that heal themselves because they have unique characteristics (or about scientists racing the clock to figure out how to replicate that) without thinking about how every cancer and every patient’s response to cancer is different and how researchers and physicians are trying to understand all the ways that plays out (sometimes using genetics, like the coral researchers). I also mean that literary metaphor, especially poetry, is among the few things that can help me get my head around what is going on. When you can’t understand, metaphor can be calming and provide a sense that eventually there might be answers.

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new20reef201

Photo: Valeria Pizarro
The Varadero reef has survived in Colombia’s Cartagena Bay despite toxicity from heavy shipping. The corals grow twice as fast as similar corals elsewhere, but their skeletons are less dense, which may have something to do with their success.

The news about coral reefs has not been good for a long time. Rising temperatures and too much carbon dioxide have been killing off these delicate creatures worldwide, with dire consequences for the marine life that depends on their intricate communities.

But what is going on in Cartagena Bay? Elizabeth Svoboda has a fascinating story at the Christian Science Monitor.

“For the coastal communities that have harvested its bounty for centuries, and for the scientists who officially discovered it five years ago, there is no reef like Varadero. Locals call it ‘the improbable reef,’ and for good reason: It has persevered in the midst of intensive coastal development, streams of toxic runoff from the nearby Canal del Dique (Dike Canal), and waters so warm they’d turn many reefs into lifeless skeletons.

“Scientists like Lizcano-Sandoval and Pennsylvania State University’s Mónica Medina are working to uncover the secrets of Varadero’s striking resilience – secrets they can use to help other threatened reefs around the world.

“But just as Varadero begins to yield its tantalizing scientific bounty, it’s looking as if the reef may be damaged or even destroyed. A group of government officials, port authorities, and businesspeople is planning to dredge a channel so Cartagena’s harbor can accommodate more container ships – a move they say will boost the nation’s economy. However, the researchers who study Varadero, along with local environmental activists, are hoping to stall the dredging project so the reef’s storied legacy can continue – and perhaps contribute to the rescue of other endangered underwater Edens. …

” ‘Corals in Varadero have a very distinct growth pattern,’ says biologist Roberto Iglesias-Prieto, Dr. Medina’s colleague at Pennsylvania State University. Specifically, the corals grow about twice as fast as similar corals elsewhere, but their skeletons are less dense; it’s possible that these traits give them an advantage over their slower-growing coral counterparts.

“Medina thinks certain elements in runoff from the Canal del Dique may be benefiting the corals in surprising ways. ‘Part of the day, [the corals] get these nutrient-rich waters where they’re eating and photosynthesizing,’ Medina says. She notes that fairly recent changes in coral growth coincide with a period when more sediment was being dumped into the bay. …

“Varadero’s corals might also benefit from their location right at the mouth of Cartagena Bay. “They have constant communication with the sea,” [Dr. Valeria Pizarro, who discovered the reef,] says. The fresh inflow of ocean water might lessen the impact of toxic mercury, cadmium, and copper that runs off into the bay from nearby industrial facilities.

“Medina and her colleagues are trying to figure out if other aspects of the reef’s biology contribute to its success – aspects that could ultimately be replicated in reefs elsewhere. … Samples of microbes from Varadero’s corals – the onboard collection of bacteria, viruses, and algae that perform critical metabolic tasks – have revealed that they are totally distinct from those found on other reefs, Medina says. Her lab is conducting a detailed analysis to find out whether the microbes might be performing important functions, such as fighting disease, that help the corals to survive even in less-than-ideal conditions.

“In the future, if conservationists can transport Varadero’s hardy corals to other endangered reefs around the world, or even seed threatened reefs with whatever microbial cocktail helps Varadero’s corals thrive, those reefs might have a better chance of surviving despite ocean warming and pollution. Many of the world’s reefs now hang in a liminal zone between death and survival. By putting Varadero corals’ survival tactics to work on other threatened reefs, scientists like Medina, Lizcano-Sandoval, and Pizarro hope to tilt those reefs a little bit closer to the side of life.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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I have been learning all sorts of strange marine facts from Suzanne and Erik’s children. They are hooked on a video series called The Octonauts, which features cartoon characters living in the sea. One piece of wisdom from the grandchildren was about wraith-like creatures called siphonophorae, a word that gives me trouble but rolls right off a child’s tongue. Siphonophorae live even deeper in the ocean than the Octonauts and some are light emitting, which makes for a good storyline.

All this leads me to another light-emitting sea creature recently discovered near Hawaii, a shark.

Lauren Smith writes at the Guardian, “Light emitted by a new species of lanternshark, Etmopterus lailae, is camouflage and helps them to hunt, communicate and find partners. Early [in 2017] a new species of deep water shark, Etmopterus lailae, was discovered in waters surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

“Measurements of external features, teeth, vertebrae and intestines, along with specific external markings and patterns confirmed that it was indeed a new species – a member of the lanternshark family. Lanternsharks (Etmopteridae) are one of the most species-rich shark genera. …

“The lanternsharks are one of two deep sea shark families to possess the ability to bioluminesce – in other words, they are able to glow in the dark. The other shark family with the ability to do this are the kitefin sharks (Dalatiidae). This family houses the infamous cookie cutter shark, which was known for its impressive ability to disable US Navy submarines in the 70s and 80s. …

“Bioluminescence is the emission of light as a result of a biochemical reaction. In contrast to fluorescence and phosphorescence, bioluminescenct reactions do not require the initial absorption of sunlight or other electromagnetic radiation by a molecule or pigment to emit light. …

“Bioluminescence in vertebrates is found exclusively among fishes living in marine environments. At present the only known terrestrial animals capable of bioluminescence are arthropods. …

“It is also worth noting that bioluminescence is not just exhibited by deep sea dwellers existing in perpetual darkness. [One study] analysed 17 years of video footage taken from the sea’s surface down to a depths of almost 4000 metres. Observations showed that the percentage of bioluminescent animals is remarkably uniform regardless of depth.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Dinghua Yang/AFP/Getty Images
This pregnant Dinocephalosaurus, a long-necked marine reptile, didn’t lay eggs but instead gave birth to live young 245m years ago.

After uncovering new evidence, surprised scientists are revising a long-held understanding of the pre-dinosaur Dinocephalosaurus.

According to a Reuters story at the Guardian, “An extraordinary fossil unearthed in southwestern China shows a pregnant long-necked marine reptile that lived millions of years before the dinosaurs with its developing embryo, indicating the creature gave birth to live babies rather than laying eggs.

“Scientists said [in February that] the fossil of the unusual fish-eating reptile called Dinocephalosaurus, which lived about 245m years ago during the Triassic Period, changes the understanding of the evolution of vertebrate reproductive systems.

“Mammals and some reptiles including certain snakes and lizards are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.

“Dinocephalosaurus is the first member of a broad vertebrate group called archosauromorphs that includes birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and extinct flying reptiles known as pterosaurs known to give birth this way, paleontologist Jun Liu of China’s Hefei University of Technology said. …

“ ‘I think you’d be amazed to see it, with its tiny head and long snaky neck,’ said University of Bristol paleontologist Mike Benton, who also participated in the research published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Its body plan was similar to plesiosaurs, long-necked marine reptiles akin to Scotland’s mythical Loch Ness Monster that thrived later during the dinosaur age, though they were not closely related.

“Not laying eggs provided advantages to Dinocephalosaurus, the researchers said. It indicated the creature was fully marine, not having to leave the ocean to lay eggs on land like sea turtles, exposing the eggs or hatchlings to land predators.” More here.

I admire scientists for continuously revisiting accepted wisdom when they find new data. The only complaint I have about the story concerns the Loch Ness Monster, an old friend of mine. Should one really call it mythical? Perhaps the data just haven’t floated to the surface yet.

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Video: PBS NewsHour

Not long ago, Julia Griffin of PBS NewsHour interviewed an artist who has turned plastic trash into sculptures with a message.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: Octavia the octopus, Priscilla the parrot fish, and Flash the marlin, all sculptures now on display at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and all made of trash pulled from the Pacific Ocean. …

“Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the lead artist and executive director of Washed Ashore, a nonprofit seeking to educate the public on the plastics polluting the word’s oceans.

“ANGELA HASELTINE POZZI: We create sculptures that can teach people about the problem. And, as an artist, it is a real challenge to use everything that comes up off the beach.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: In six years, Haseltine Pozzi and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.

“The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans.

“Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food. …

“JULIA GRIFFIN: As scientists debate how to clean the water, Haseltine Pozzi hopes her sculptures will inspire visitors to curb pollution in the first place.”

The exhibit can be seen at the zoo until September 16, 2016. More at PBS here. Check out the Smithsonian’s site, too.

Photo: Smithsonian

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I like reading that the numbers of socially conscious companies are increasing. Recently, Naz Akyol at Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence wrote about one such business.

“Three years ago, active duty airman Michael Gnoato lost his life in a fatal car accident in Wyoming. Major Pettaway, a Marine who knew Mikey since high school, missed the funeral because he was deployed in Afghanistan at the time, but Navy Seabee Sadam Salas was there to speak at their best friend’s funeral. …

“The two young men are the co-founders (as well as CEO and CFO, respectively) of Mike’s Ice, a deliciously novel idea that pays tribute to their fallen friend, and also a social enterprise committed to fighting veteran homelessness and more.

“Sadam and Major [sell] Thai style ice cream rolls that come in seven fun flavors, … a commodity that only recently hit US markets with only a handful of stores in New York City. They also decided to give their venture four wheels and make Mike’s Ice a mobile truck. …

“Everything that is sold at Mike’s Ice is made from scratch, which means the truck needs to be equipped with special ice cream making machines as well as equipment for storing their ice cream bases and toppings. When asked about the greatest challenge they have faced so far, Sadam smiles and says: ‘You don’t sleep a lot.’ …

“Mike’s Ice received a SEG Hub Scholarship from Social Enterprise Greenhouse … [and] is partnered with Backpacks For Life, a nonprofit that provides homeless veterans with backpacks that contain essentials for survival.

‘We are both veterans, and now we are also entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs exist to solve problems,’ Sadam says. ‘Veteran homelessness, suicide …. these problems shouldn’t exist. These are people who fought for their country.’

More here.

Photo: Social Enterprise Greenhouse

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Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
A sponge the size of a minivan was found in summer 2015 in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off Hawaii.

One of Earth’s oldest living animals is a sea sponge. As big as a minivan, it has been growing for generations unnoticed and undisturbed in waters off Hawaii.

Elahe Izadi writes in the Washington Post that a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) “captured footage of the spectacularly large sponge during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deep-sea expedition, and the species was identified for the first time in a study published [in May] in the journal Marine Biodiversity. …

“There’s more to this sponge than its girth: It could also be among the oldest living animals on earth. … Sponges can live for hundreds or even thousands of years. ‘While not much is known about the lifespan of sponges, some massive species found in shallow waters are estimated to live for more than 2,300 years,’ the study authors write. …

“ ‘Finding such an enormous and presumably old sponge emphasizes how much can be learned from studying deep and pristine environments such as those found in the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument,’ Daniel Wagner, Papahānaumokuākea research specialist, said in a statement. …

“Christopher Kelly, NOAA research scientist and co-lead for the expedition, said the sponge ‘just appeared’ on the ROV’s high-definition camera, Australia’s Pacific Beat radio reported.

” ‘We were looking for deep water corals and sponges, and we had just gotten some close ups of some corals, then turned away to continue the survey and the sponge appeared out of nowhere.’ ”

I can just picture that cinematic moment of discovery.

More at the Washington Post, here.

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My friend Kristina is an artist with a long-time interest in shells. At a Harvard-based shell club that she frequents, she meets many interesting artists and scientists — including George Buckley, a Caribbean coral reef researcher who made the video below.

Buckley says, “Little did I know in 1976 that my first visit to Bonaire to study land snails … and dive with Captain Don Stewart would lead to a career interconnected with Bonaire and to some 100 more return trips!

“Bonaire became the focus of case study after case study of marine management and biodiversity in my Harvard University environmental management program. [Dozens] of research and study groups, students, magazine writers and photographers that I brought to the island all fell in love with the landscapes and the emerald sea of Bonaire.

“The early years of the Bonaire Marine Park [BMP] and STINAPA [Dutch acronym for national park] … were a great adventure and while my efforts with the Carco Project and Marecultura were not as successful as hoped, both helped to lay the groundwork for future efforts around the world as to best practices in that field.

“The BMP’s pioneering leadership in education, moorings, gloves policies, banning light sticks and spearfishing, creating the ‘Nature Fee’ and so much more led to Bonaire’s well-deserved world-wide recognition. The efforts to save Klein Bonaire were a testament to international collaboration and stand to this day as the Hallmark of what a committed group of concerned people can accomplish. It is indeed true that Bonaire is to conservation of nature as Greenwich is to time – with credit to Captain Don.”

If you are on Facebook, check out the rest of Buckley’s post.

Photo: Sand Dollar in Bonaire

 

 

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What is going on with the oceans? Warming trends are bringing sea creatures further north and for longer periods.

In January, Oliver Milman reported at the Guardian about a sea snake with a suggestive name (“Why you yellow-bellied sea snake, you …!”) that has suddenly shown up in California.

“California beachgoers have been urged to steer clear of a species of highly venomous sea snake following a third, and unprecedented, instance of an aquatic serpent washing up on to the state’s beaches.

“A 20-inch yellow-bellied sea snake was discovered on a beach near San Diego … The sighting was the third reported instance since October of the species, which prefers the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, washing up on California’s beaches.

“The only previous verified sighting of a washed-up yellow-bellied sea snake was in 1972. Experts believe the snakes have ridden a warm current of water, fueled by the exceptionally strong El Niño climatic event, farther north than they have ever previously ventured. …

“ ‘It’s been an incredibly interesting year for southern California. We’ve seen tuna and marlin and tropical bird species such as red-footed boobies,’ said Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. …

“Yellow-bellied sea snakes are fully aquatic snakes capable of swimming vast distances. Although they are highly venomous, their targets are small fish and it’s thought they have yet to cause a recorded human death. However, Pauly said people should keep their distance if they encounter another washed-up snake.

“ ‘They are fairly docile and it’s unlikely for someone to be envenomated,’ he said. ‘It’s rare for them to bite people, it’s usually fishermen who are carelessly pulling up fishing nets.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Carolyn Larcombe/Wandiyali Images
Seen in California after el Niño, yellow-bellied sea snakes usually live in the deep waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. 

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Photo: Bob Plain

I do love the inventiveness of entrepreneurs. A friend of Suzanne and Erik’s is an inventive entrepreneur — an oyster entrepreneur, to be specific. Since oysters are a seasonal crop, he looked for something that might become his winter crop.

Bob Plain’s Narragansett Bay Blog has the story on Jules Opton-Himmel, RI’s first kelp farmer.

“Kelp, you may or may not have heard, is the next super food. It’s nutritious, sustainable and ecologically beneficial,” writes Plain.

He continues with a quote from a recent New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear: ” ‘Seaweed, which requires neither fresh water nor fertilizer, is one of the world’s most sustainable and nutritious crops. It absorbs dissolved nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide directly from the sea — its footprint is negative — and proliferates at a terrific rate.’ …

“Coincidentally – and quite auspiciously – just as the blockbuster New Yorker article hit the newsstands, Opton-Himmel was gearing up to introduce kelp farming to Rhode Island. …

“Farm-raised kelp is grown on a longline – a submersible thick rope, held in place by anchors and buoys, that is used to hold in place seafood harvesting equipment. A thin string of kelp spores is wrapped around the longline, and the kelp grows toward the bottom. Opton-Himmel, with the help of Scott Lindell and David Bailey from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass, planted 1,000 feet. …

“Unlike oysters, which grow in the warmer months, kelp only grows when it’s cold. That means it could prove an off-season bumper crop for otherwise summertime-only seafood harvesters. Walrus and Carpenter downsizes from 7 to 3 employees in the winter, Opton-Himmel said, and kelp could help him keep the other four on the payroll all year long.

“ ‘I’d love to keep all 6 on year-round,’ Opton-Himmel said.”

More here.

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Don’t you love it when something that is extinct turns out not to be extinct at all? Like coelacanths, which, according to Wikipedia, “were thought to have become extinct in the Late Cretaceous, around 66 million years ago, but were rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa.”

While I’m waiting for someone to prove unequivocally the existence of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, I will regale myself with Lazarus-like sea snakes in Australia.

I saw this Australian Associated Press story at the Guardian: “A species of sea snake thought to be extinct has been rediscovered off the Western Australian coast. A wildlife officer spotted two courting short-nosed sea snakes while patrolling in Ningaloo marine park on the state’s mid-north coast. …

“The Western Australian environment minister, Albert Jacob, said the discovery was especially important because they had never been seen at Ningaloo reef.

“A Department of Parks and Wildlife officer photographed the snakes on Ningaloo Reef and James Cook university scientists identified them.”

Maybe marine creatures such as sea snakes and coelacanths are more likely to be preserved than woodpeckers — hidden away in the ocean’s unexplored depths. Still, as a movie I reviewed, Revolution, made clear, the seas are threatened, too.

More on courting sea snakes at the Guardian.

Photo: Grant Giffen/AFP/Getty Images
The discovery of the short-nosed sea snake, previously thought to have been extinct, is significant because the species had never been seen in the Ningaloo marine park in Western Australia before.

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Maria Popova linked to this story on twitter. It’s about how climate change is affecting a way of life for Fiji Islanders.

Meehan Crist writes at the blog Nautil.us, “The day that conservation biologist Joshua Drew, his two students, and I arrive in the Fijian village of Nagigi, the wind is blowing so hard that the coconut palms are bent sideways. ‘Trade winds,’ we are told. And, ‘El Nino. The villagers here also know that climate change is affecting the weather, but their more immediate problem, shared across the Pacific—and, indeed, the world—is an ocean ecosystem sorely depleted by overfishing.

“Nagigi is a village of about 240 people living in tin-roofed wooden homes strung along a sandy coastline. A single paved road runs the length of the village, parallel to the ocean, and along this road are homes clustered by family, painted in cheerful pastels, and connected by well-worn paths through the crab grass. ‘Before,’ said Avisake Nasi, a woman in her late 50s who has been fishing this reef her whole life, ‘you just go out and you find plenty fish. Now, you have to look.’ …

“If pressures mount from too many sides at once—rising ocean temperatures, acidification, pollution, overfishing—the combined pressure will be too much even for Fiji’s remarkably resilient reefs to bear. …

“Conservationists and humanitarian groups have recently united in the call for sustainable resource management, and in this trend, Nagigi is ahead of much of the Western world. Villagers have been discussing how they might use a traditional ban on fishing known as a tabu (tam-bu) to help manage their marine resources in new ways. …

“Drew presents his findings about how fish here are interconnected with other reefs, and how to best protect the species most important to the village in terms of food and income. He talks about how, for the last three years, he has been collecting baseline data about the species present on the reef so that if the village sets up a tabu, its effects can be measured.

“His audience is most interested in what Drew has to say about where to set up a tabu—include the mangroves at the left side of the village shore, because they act as fish nurseries—and for how long—three years would give crucial species enough time to mature and spawn. There has been some talk of a one-year tabu, which would be less of a hardship for villagers who will have to walk a mile or more to reach ocean where they are allowed to fish. But Drew’s data suggest this wouldn’t be long enough to make the sort of difference the village wants to see. ‘I can only offer information,’ Drew says at the end of his presentation, ‘the decision is yours.’ ”

The reporting for Crist’s  story was made possible by a grant from the Mindlin Foundation.

Try to see the related climate-change movie Revolution, which I wrote about here.

Photo: Meehan Crist
The view from Nagigi’s school to the sea, where many locals make their living

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I was charmed by Sy Montgomery’s recent article in the Boston Globe on the intelligence of octopi (she says “octopuses”).

The author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Montgomery describes getting to know a clever and apparently affectionate octopus called Octavia.

“Everyone wanted to pet Octavia,” she writes. “And no wonder. She was beautiful, graceful, and affectionate. The fact that she was boneless, slimy, and living in painfully cold, 47-degree water deterred none of us.

“What thrilled us — me, New England Aquarium volunteer Wilson Menashi, and four visitors from the environmental radio show Living on Earth was the surprising fact that Octavia, who clearly wanted to be petted, was a giant Pacific octopus.

“When her keeper, Bill Murphy, opened the top of her exhibit, Octavia recognized Menashi and me immediately; we’d been working with her for several weeks. Turning red with excitement, she flowed over toward us from the far side of her tank. When we put our hands in the water, her arms rose to meet ours, embracing us with dozens of her strong, sensitive, white suckers. Occasionally Wilson handed her a fish from the plastic bucket perched on the edge of her tank. …

“Then, as Menashi reached for another capelin to feed her, we realized the bucket of fish was gone. While no fewer than six people were watching, and three of us had our arms in her tank, Octavia had stolen the bucket right out from under us.

“ ‘Octopuses are phenomenally smart,’ Menashi says. And he should know: He has worked with them for 20 years, and is expert in keeping these intelligent invertebrates occupied. Otherwise, they become bored. Aquariums design elaborate escape-proof lids for their octopus tanks, and still they are often thwarted. Octopuses not infrequently slip out of their exhibits and turn up in other tanks to eat the inhabitants.

“Many aquariums give their octopuses Legos to dismantle, jars with lids to unscrew, and Mr. Potato Head to play with. Menashi, a retired inventor, designed a series of nesting Plexiglas cubes, each with a different lock, which Boston’s octopuses quickly learned to open to get at a tasty crab inside. And just this spring, New Zealand Sea Life aquarists teamed up with Sony engineers to teach a female octopus named Rambo to press the red shutter button on a waterproof camera to take photos of visitors, which the aquarium sells for $2 each to benefit its conservation programs. Rambo learned in three attempts.”

What a different perspective on the scary beast in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I saw as a child.

I’d love to copy the whole intriguing article, but I’m afraid that would not be “fair use.” So read it all here.

Photo: Tia Strombeck
Sy Montgomery pets Octavia, an octopus at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

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As a longtime believer in “one and one and 50 make a million,” I am not surprised to learn that some big environmental problems are being successfully tackled through small-dollar grants.

Karen Weintraub writes at the NY Times, “In Pakistan and India, the blind Indus River dolphin, one of the most endangered species, swims a shrinking stretch of water, trapped by development and dams. …

“Overfishing, habitat loss and pollution threaten species in so many places that research and conservation organizations cannot do all that is needed. So, with the aim of making a dent through small, targeted efforts, the New England Aquarium, which sits on Boston’s downtown waterfront, has for 15 years awarded microgrants to projects across the globe. …

“The aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund has paid out $700,000 since 1999, supporting 122 projects in 40 countries on six continents. Elizabeth Stephenson, the fund’s manager, calls these projects ‘stories of hope for the ocean.’

“The grants are modest. One researcher, Rohan Arthur, used his $6,700 payout from the fund to buy a ‘secondhand, beat-up compressor’ to fill his scuba tanks. But the support allowed him to maintain his critical assessment of coral reefs in the Arabian Sea off the west coast of India.

“Dr. Arthur, a senior scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Karnataka, India, said that in some ways, he preferred the scale of the New England Aquarium gifts. …

“Small grants, he said, offer more freedom, but can still be transformative. …

“Gill Braulik, a dolphin expert based in Tanzania, used a … grant in 2011 to teach Pakistani scientists to take over her research on a blind dolphin species that lives only in the Indus River. …

“In 2011, a $6,000 aquarium grant allowed her to train the local researchers in complex survey methods and analysis. Now, two groups of local scientists have led the work. ‘They really don’t need me anymore,’ she said.”

Read more here.

Photo: Gill Braulik
Najam Ul-Huda Khan, left, interviews village elders about sightings of Indus River dolphins. 

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