There can be catastrophic results when a large amount of oil is spilled into the ocean—as when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But did you know that a little bit of oil in the ocean is actually necessary for many organisms to survive? In the deep sea, there is no light, so oil and gas act as a source of energy for bacteria. These bacteria are in turn eaten by larger organisms, which are then eaten by even larger organisms, and so on, as you move up the food chain. Generally the oil that feeds organisms in the deep sea isn’t spilled there by...
Cashes Ledge is a wild, special place in the heart of the Gulf of Maine. This underwater mountain range is home to a great diversity of life, with colors typically associated with a coral reef rather than a cold, northern environment. Its steep peaks reach almost to the ocean’s surface—a fact that historically made Cashes Ledge a dangerous place for fishermen, who could easily snag and rip or lose their nets on the jagged underwater mountaintops. As a result, the thriving ecosystems on the Ledge have been relatively undisturbed by people for centuries. To promote the rebuilding of New England...
Most people try to avoid rotting kelp at the beach. The feeling of a floating piece of seaweed wrapping around an ankle is enough to shake even the most steeled swimmer, and then there's the strong smell! But in our research group, we go out of our way to find rotting seaweed at the shore so that we can study how kelp tissues change as they die and decompose. While this may seem like an odd thing to care about, detached and decomposing kelp blades are actually a very important part of coastal food webs in many cold-water ecosystems. Kelps grow large and fast, but then some perennial species...
Sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are incredibly diverse and complicated systems. Because of this complexity, it can be a challenge to manage and protect reefs—and sometimes multiple threats must be addressed in quick succession. Overfishing, pollution and coral predators all have negative impacts on coral and the many animals that live on the reef. But with vigilant protection and response to these challenges, coral reefs can be protected. The story of American Samoa shows that reefs can and do rebound if human impacts are minimized. American Samoa is a string of seven...
Microbes are some of the most important organisms in the sea. These miniscule organisms provide an important link in the food web between the dissolved nutrients in the ocean and larger organisms like corals , fishes, and sharks . Without the microbes nothing would be able to use those nutrients, and the machinery of the ocean’s food web would grind to a halt. While microbes are very easy to collect—just scoop up a handful of seawater—they are not very easy to study because they are so small. So a bit counterintuitively, when we study the smallest members of the marine community, we need big...
How do you explain a scientific paper in three minutes or less? What if you were being judged by a bunch of middle-schoolers in classrooms around the world… and you only had a month to do it? The video above is what I came up with, with help from planetary scientist, science communicator, and science historian Meg Rosenburg . That music! That voice! Those… diatoms?? You might ask what we were thinking, making an epic film about microbes. The truth is, it was an experiment—an experiment that, thankfully, turned out quite well. More than 30,000 students saw our video, and they voted it into...
Bacteria are everywhere in the ocean. They live in the water, on virtually every living and non-living surface, and even inside other organisms . There are 1 million bacterial cells in every milliliter of seawater; that translates to roughly 5 million bacterial cells per teaspoon! With so many bacteria in the ocean you have to wonder—what are they doing? Thanks to new technological advances, we understand more and more about the important roles that bacteria play in the health and ecological interactions of marine organisms. One of their most important roles is in the production of a wide...
Traveling aboard the Charles W. Morgan , a 173-year-old whaling ship on its 38th Voyage, I’m struck by its paradox: this vessel which spent years chasing and killing whales is now helping us to study these magnificent creatures. This summer's voyage is an unusual one. Along with the scientific research done onboard, I’m also coordinating a cohort of artists and scholars selected as 38th Voyagers, who will sail for a day out of Provincetown, Massachusetts into Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in mid-July. The 38th Voyagers are researchers from a variety of disciplines including...
Reef biologists over a certain age are haunted by memories of what glorious places Caribbean reefs once were. In our youth we studied them for all sorts of reasons but scarcely thought about reef conservation. We took the reefs for granted. Today, however, we know that most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear in 20 years if we don't restore the grazing fish that defend the corals from seaweed. This message comes through loud and clear in a new report, " Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 ," which was released today as the result of a three year joint effort of the Global...
If you are a bird watcher you have probably heard of the Christmas Bird Count. The first one occurred on Christmas Day in 1900 at a variety of locations throughout North America, and it has since expanded to become the largest citizen science project in the world. Teams of volunteers go out and compile lists of all the birds spotted within a 15-mile (24 km) circle in many different places. The project has proven invaluable for keeping track of how populations of birds have changed through time. Now comes the salt water equivalent— Ocean Sampling Day —which will take place on Saturday, June 21...