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Posts Tagged ‘marine’

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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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