We all know that hurricanes can have destructive effects on human communities and infrastructure—but what about their effects on coastal wetlands? Until Hurricane Katrina, no one had ever mapped hurricane-caused land loss in Louisiana, where a staggering 90 percent of coastal wetland loss in the United State's contiguous 48 states occurs. The first study to do so, published in 2009, found that the almost back-to-back hurricanes of 2005 (Katrina on Aug. 29 and Rita on Sep. 24) and 2008 (Gustav on Sep. 1 and Ike on Sep. 13) caused an estimated 328 square miles (850 square kilometers) of coastal...
The threat that climate change poses to polar bears has received a lot of attention, but they are not the only Arctic species at risk. Ice-loving seals, such as harp, hooded and ringed seals, are among the many species threatened by climate change. Recent predictions suggest that warming seawater and air will melt 20 percent or more of the Arctic's ice cover in the next 40 years—a scary statistic for the many species in the Arctic that rely on seasonal ice cover for vital activities such as breeding and eating. Harp seals ( Pagophilus groenlandicus ) are a prime example of why sea ice matters...
A lot can happen in five years. Since 2007, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has continued to go up, reaching a concentration of 400 parts per million, and with it Arctic sea ice has continued to melt, reaching a record low in 2012. On a more positive note, more than five million square kilometers of ocean have been designated as shark sanctuaries over the same interval. And just five years ago, the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History opened. To celebrate its fifth birthday, three new exhibitions that feature the human relationship to the...
Editor's Note: These images and more can be seen at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as a part of the larger exhibit " Portraits of Planet Ocean: The Photography of Brian Skerry " opening on September 17, 2013. Two additional ocean exhibits are also opening: "Fragile Beauty: The Art & Science of Sea Butterflies," which shares the story of how ocean acidification is affecting sea butterflies , and the "Living on an Ocean Planet" gallery, which focuses on the human relationship with the ocean . Their opening coincides with the five-year anniversary of...
This summer, many of you have likely enjoyed feasting on crabs, be they blue, stone, or Dungeness, and a special treat will have been the big, easy morsels of claw meat. The size of this muscle is testament to its role in applying a forceful pinch to prey, predator, or competitor. But many crabs also use their lovely long claws to attract females—a function that does not depend on the power of the pinch. So which of these two uses was more important in driving the claw's evolution: its beauty or its strength? Female fiddler crabs have two small claws that they use to pick up bits of sediment...
Oceanic birds are a rare treat to see because these birds are not casual visitors to our coastline—to see them you normally have to get on a boat. So late last spring I was amazed to find hundreds of shearwaters stranded on the beach along the Atlantic coast of Florida. Shearwaters are oceanic birds related to albatrosses that spend most of their lives at sea, normally coming to land only to breed. In talking with locals, I learned that the strandings happen when strong winds blow out of the East. Weak from their long migrations, these birds had the bad luck to encounter strong winds as they...
Tags: Migration
Any floating object in the ocean tends to attract life; fishermen know this and deploy floating buoys to concentrate fish for harvesting. Plastic marine debris is no different and, at microscopic scales, microbes such as bacteria, algae and other single-celled organisms gather around and colonize plastic and other objects floating in water. Even small pieces of plastic marine debris the size of your pinky nail can act as microbe aggregating devices. We call this community of microbes growing as a thin layer of life (a biofilm) on the outside of plastic the “plastisphere,” analogous to the...
For more than two centuries, Boston Harbor has been a dumping ground. In 1773, colonists famously dumped shiploads of tea to protest taxes. But in recent decades, the harbor has received less tea and more sewage. In the 1970s, 43 communities sent their wastewater to Boston where it was barely treated before its release into the harbor. The harbor's pollution was so severe that local newspapers dubbed it “The Harbor of Shame” in the 1980s! But nowadays, after almost 25 years of intensive work by government and local organizations, sewage is no longer discharged into Boston Harbor and, as a...
Even on an early winter morning, it was sunny and warm in southern Florida. This was great because, regardless of the weather, Dr. Jon Norenburg and I were going to walk chest-deep into the water to scrape off animals encrusting some pier pilings near Miami Beach. Composed mostly of barnacles, sponges and sea squirts, this crust also harbors our quarry: intertidal ribbon worms , or nemerteans. We were looking for them to study their ability to regenerate missing ends after amputation. We have all probably heard about regeneration: if an earthworm is cut in two, each piece can sometimes grow...
When snorkeling in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA) in West Maui, I keep an eye out for certain kinds of fish. Not the brightest or the biggest, but those herbivores such as uhu (parrotfish), lau'ipala (yellow tang), or na'ena'e (orangeband surgeonfish) that mow algae. These fish can tell me whether a unique experiment in coral reef management that has the potential to restore ecological resilience —the ability for an ecosystem to rebound after a disturbance—is working. Inside the KHFMA, fishing for herbivorous fishes and urchins is banned, so the species I’m hoping to...