For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit a coral reef , you know that it’s an experience you are unlikely to forget. Coral reefs are among the world’s most magnificent ecosystems. Their beauty alone makes them incalculably valuable, but beyond aesthetics, their importance to both marine life and humans is immense. Though they cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs support an estimated 25 percent of all marine life. They generate billions of dollars and millions of jobs in more than 100 countries around the world, and provide an important local food source...
I became interested in weather phenomena when I took physics in high school. At the time, I just wanted to understand how various things in nature worked. Unfortunately, most information about weather and hurricanes, whether in textbooks or on television, is merely descriptive: this is the sequence of events that we observe, and they lead to a hurricane. There is usually very little explanation of why it’s happening or the physics behind it. But, if we want to predict what a hurricane is going to do tomorrow or in the next few days, we have to understand the physical processes—from the...
This year marks 100 years since the National Museum of Natural History opened its doors, but the Smithsonian’s work in marine science dates back more than 160 years. In fact, our marine collection —the largest in the world at more than 80 million specimens—has its roots in The U.S. Exploring Expedition (or “Ex Ex,” for short). From 1838 to 1842, six vessels and more than 340 men, including a team of nine scientists and artists, sailed the seas exploring, establishing a diplomatic presence, demonstrating a new nation’s Naval prowess, and documenting cultural and scientific diversity. The Ex Ex...
Once upon a time, the ocean was considered the last place where we could still find an undisturbed environment. This was before the plague of man-made plastic trash flooded the seas. During my travels, I have realized that everything has changed. There is scarcely a place on Earth where plastic litter is not present. Standing on the decks of our research ship, miles away from any large urban areas, we have retrieved plastic from the deepest parts of the sea. The increasing rate of plastic pollution is alarming. The production of plastic doubles every decade, and ever-increasing amounts of...
At the Ocean Portal, we love the back-to-school season. There’s excitement in the air—new classes, new teachers, new friends, and new subjects to explore. We like to think of a new school year as a fresh opportunity for students of all ages to find something they are passionate about. This year, we have a recommendation: get passionate about exploration itself . There are few things in the world more exciting than embarking on a journey to an unfamiliar place, making a novel discovery, or beginning an experiment aimed at solving vexing a mystery. The ocean world is full of examples of...
Depending on whom you talk to, jellyfish are either fascinating, a nuisance, a toxic menace, or some combination of the above. Jellyfish plop into the media spotlight when their presence causes beach closures, or when an unlucky swimmer meets a jelly's toxic tentacle. They stimulate debate among scientists: some say that rising numbers of jellyfish are a sign of climate change and pollution, since the animals thrive in warmer, more acidic waters. Others say we don't know enough about their natural cycles to blame population booms on human activities. Still others say there's no such thing as...
Last week, the United Nations’ World Heritage Convention went blue. Two of the largest and healthiest marine protected areas on our planet—the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii—have now gained World Heritage status. Together, they more than doubled the marine area protected under the World Heritage Convention—now 1.6 million square kilometers (more than 617,000 square miles) or about 0.5 percent of the world’s ocean surface. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area conserves one of the world’s largest intact coral archipelago...
Exciting news for the Ocean Portal blog! We’re happy as clams to be making our inaugural appearance in the Carnival of the Blue , a rotating monthly compilation of the "best of" ocean blogging. This month, Michael Bok, a graduate student studying the visual system of mantis shrimp, is hosting the 39th edition of the carnival on his blog, Arthropoda . We’re delighted to be in the company of so many accomplished marine wordsmiths and scientists, and we hope you’ll check out some of the other fine offerings from the carnival. Take an awe-inspiring swim with a giant whale shark. Explore the...
Starting this Sunday, August 1st, the fins will be circling on a television near you. Sunday kicks off The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” an annual TV ritual that offers hours of programming about sharks—some bloody, some beautiful, some scientific, some sensational. It’s great to see these sleek beauties of the sea getting some serious airtime, and we hope this week-long focus on sharks can help call attention to the issues sharks face and to our own species’ rocky relationship with them. Let’s face it, when it comes to sharks, many of us carry some very heavy mental baggage. Years of...
The year 2010 will likely be remembered as a tragic time for the ocean. Yet, despite the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I have hope for our ocean’s future. Last week President Obama signed an Executive Order to implement our nation’s first National Ocean Policy. Despite our 200-year history as a maritime nation , we have a jumble of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws pertaining to ocean management, all of which are overseen by more than 20 separate agencies. Now, for the first time, we have a national policy that will enable us to plan our interactions with the ocean. The...