Ocean Currents » Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 How an Argument Led to a Big Discovery: An Interview with USGS Scientist Kim Yates http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/24/how-an-argument-led-to-a-big-discovery-an-interview-with-usgs-scientist-kim-yates/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/24/how-an-argument-led-to-a-big-discovery-an-interview-with-usgs-scientist-kim-yates/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:58:30 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14228

Dr. Kim Yates, research oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey. Credit: Benjamin Drummond for Ocean Conservancy.

The Ocean Conservancy ocean acidification team has spent time in Florida over the past year talking with fishermen and scientists to better understand how changes in ocean chemistry are affecting Florida’s coastal communities and its marine resources, including its iconic coral reefs and fish. On our most recent visit, we interviewed Dr. Kim Yates, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, who is an expert on ocean acidification impacts on coral reef ecosystems about vanishing sea floors and how arguing with a boat captain led her to a major scientific discovery.

Ocean Conservancy: Dr. Yates, how does ocean acidification affect coral reefs and the ecosystems around them?

Dr. Kim Yates: The animals that create coral reefs thrive in a particular range of pH and carbonate, which is a chemical they use to help build their skeletons. Reefs provide habitat for fish and other reef life, but the skeletons of reef organisms also naturally break down and make sand. And much of that sand supports a lot of ecosystems around the reef. That sand also helps nourish beaches along coral reef coastlines. Ocean acidification causes reefs to slow down their growth rate, and when that happens, they don’t break down into as much sand that supports the surrounding ecosystems and even the beaches. And when the pH of seawater decreases from ocean acidification, it can actually even cause the sand that’s made out of that carbonate material to start dissolving.

OC: But corals only border some areas of Florida. Why should the whole state pay attention to ocean acidification?

KY: One of the most unique and interesting things about the state of Florida is that our entire state sits on top of what we call a carbonate platform, or rock made out of the same material as coral skeletons. We don’t know how ocean acidification is going to affect the bedrock that supports our entire state. When ocean acidification decreases the pH of seawater, it can cause that carbonate material to dissolve. So this problem of ocean acidification is not just localized to our coral reefs, or to our shellfish beds, it’s a statewide problem for Florida.

OC: What inspired you to look at Florida’s bedrock and sand, and not just living corals?

KY: That research actually started with an argument I had with a boat captain. One day we were working out in the Florida Keys on a reef and I was snorkeling around, looking for a place to put some instrumentation down on the sea floor. And the captain told me to motion to him when I found a good place and he would bring to boat over, close enough so we could put the instrumentation on the sea floor. So I looked around, and I found the spot, and I motioned to the boat captain, but the boat captain wouldn’t come over. And so I motioned to the boat captain again and he still wouldn’t come over. And so, somewhat frustrated, I swam all the way back to the boat and I said, “Captain, you told me to let you know when I wanted you to come over and anchor the boat. And you wouldn’t come. What’s going on?” He said, “I can’t bring the boat over there. It’s only two feet deep.” I looked at him and said, “No, there’s 12 feet of water over there.” And he said, “No there’s not,” and he pulled out the chart, and he laid it on the table and said, “See, it’s only 2 feet deep.” Sure enough, the chart said two feet deep. I had to put him in the water and swim him over to show him there was actually 12 feet of water there.

Thinking about it later, I realized there was either a serious problem with the nautical chart or we were missing ten feet of sea floor in that location. As it turns out, many modern day nautical charts actually combine sea floor or water depth data from decades past. So if you’re looking at a 2010 nautical chart, it might combine data measured by hand from the 1870s and the 1930s and the 1950s as well as modern data measured by satellite. And so we launched a large-scale investigation, comparing all of the historical water depth data to modern elevation data. 

Dr. Yates prepares her equipment to collect data. Photo Credit: Benjamin Drummond for Ocean Conservancy.

OC: What did your research show?

KY: We discovered that coral reef degradation in Florida has caused a dramatic decrease in regional sea floor elevation. In other words, coral reef breakdown is flattening the sea floor.

But coral reefs and a bumpy sea floor are important for slowing down big waves. When you stand on a beach and watch surfers, they are usually way offshore because that’s where the big waves are. You can see those big waves breaking offshore, and the surfers ride them as they are breaking. But, by the time the waves reach the beach where you are standing, they are much smaller. That’s because coral reef structure and shallow seafloor breaks the big waves up offshore before they make it to the beach. When you lose that shallow seafloor or coral reef structure, or both, those big waves can make it to the beach before they break up. There, they will cause more erosion and damage along the coastline. The shallow seafloor and coral reefs act as a natural barrier that breaks up large waves before they hit the coastline.

South Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise because the highest areas on land in the Florida Keys are only about six feet above sea level. So when you have incoming storm waves, everyday waves and coastal erosion, it’s much more concerning when you’re only living about six feet above sea level. Reefs are a key defense protecting us from ocean waves. Our research is going to help USGS better predict how these changes are going to affect these coastal communities today and into the future.

Dr. Yates’ research made the front page of the Miami Herald on April 21. Learn more about how she and her fellow scientists have uncovered the phenomenon of a vanishing sea floor off the coast of Florida.


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Advice to a 10-Year-Old Scientist http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/06/advice-to-a-10-year-old-scientist/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/06/advice-to-a-10-year-old-scientist/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:03:54 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13845

The author as a junior scientist: writing computer programs, collecting specimens and troubleshooting equipment. Courtesy Sarah Cooley.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating stand out #WomeninConservation all week long. Here, Sarah Cooley, Director of our Ocean Acidification Program, writes a letter to her ten-year-old self. Check back every day for new blogs, and don’t forget to join our Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 8th at 1 pm EST! 

Dear Sarah,

I know you’re really busy with fourth grade right now, but I wanted to say “Hi!” from the future and cheer you on. You’re going to be a scientist, but I won’t tell you anything else. I don’t want to give away any of the journey! It’s a fun one. But, I will tell you that some things you’re doing now are really important for becoming me, your future self.

Keep on playing outside. All that wading in the creek behind the house in your rubber boots and looking at bugs and leaves and shiny rocks is going to leave lasting prints on your brain and your heart. Lots of grown-ups forget, or maybe never knew, how awesome the Earth is. So it’s easy for people to take clean water and air for granted. But the world needs you and your friends to remember what healthy creeks and forests and oceans look like so you can fight for them. You’ve got to stand up for nature, because it’s a lot quieter than money and fame. That’s hard work, so you’ve got to keep doing things the hard way, too. When you cross the creek on that shaky rope bridge your brother built, even though you could land in the water, it’s good practice. That’ll give you a taste for adventure, too, which will take you around the world!

Keep being really curious. Scientists’ favorite questions are probably “Why?” and “How?” Sure, you did that whole unit in science class about the scientific method, learning about the hypothesis, the experiment, the data and the conclusions, but that’s only part of doing real science. Every time you take apart your pen during class to see how it works or you mix paint colors in art to get EXACTLY the right shade of blue, you’re doing science, and here’s why. You’ve got a question you’re trying to answer, or a goal you’re trying to reach, and you’re figuring out how the evidence (or pieces) you’ve got will get you there. Being a scientist is a lot like being a professional puzzle solver. But you get to make the puzzle as well as figure out how to solve it, which is extra fun.

Keep on inventing. That cable car made of index cards, tape and fishing line you and your friends built between your desks to pass notes was pretty awesome. You’ll need that creativity when you’re a scientist, too. Scientists do a lot of inventing, and it’s important to have a can-do attitude when you’re in a jam. That’s true in life as well as in science—it’ll help you change a tire as well as fix a complicated piece of science equipment.

Keep on being a bookworm. You’ll know a little about a lot of things and you’ll know how to track down more information in a hurry. You’ll be able to talk to almost anyone a little bit about anything (except, maybe, football. You’ll never understand football). Having a lot of random knowledge can also help you solve puzzles and invent things, too, because you can borrow ideas from other unrelated topics.  Plus, when you’re me and grown up with a real job, you’ll look back with envy on those long summer days you spent sprawled on the porch glued to a book. So, enjoy!

Keep on writing to your pen pals in Bermuda and Hawaii. It’s really important to understand people different from you. Not everyone you’ll meet is a scientist. They might not even like science! But, if they’re a human being, you’ve got a lot in common with them. You’ve got to be able understand what makes different people tick, and simply talking to them is a great way to find out. Finding things in common is the ticket to working together, and scientists have to work with all sorts of people every day. I know you’re kind of scared of meeting new people and talking to them, but don’t be. Whenever you are in a new situation and really nervous, remember that pretty much everyone else in the room feels the same way. Just screw up your courage and say “Hi,” and you might make a new friend. I promise, you’ll make a bunch of them as you work to become a scientist, and they’ll stick with you through thick and thin.

Last—Keep up the good work, kiddo! Everyone in the future is pulling for you. We need more girls like you in science! You can make a big difference.


Your future self

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Urgent: Trump Can’t Ignore the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/31/urgent-trump-cant-ignore-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/31/urgent-trump-cant-ignore-the-ocean/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 15:31:04 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13688

I’m a scientist, and I’ve dedicated my life to finding solutions that help people and coastal communities. It may sound complicated, but really, it’s simple—if you add carbon emissions to seawater, the ocean turns more acidic. I’ve visited with shellfish growers and coastal businesses across the country, and I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of acidification.

So you can imagine my surprise, when Scott Pruitt—the nominee for the head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)—was asked directly by Senators about ocean acidification, he wasn’t even willing to admit that ocean acidification is happening.

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on Mr. Pruitt for the head of the EPA. We want Senators to vote NO and OPPOSE Pruitt based on his unwillingness to admit that ocean acidification is really happening.

I can’t sit back and watch politics harm our coastal communities. We gave Scott Pruitt a chance, we listened to what he had to say at his confirmation hearings and his answers on ocean acidification are a total deal-breaker. Ocean acidification is happening. Shellfish growers in the Pacific Northwest nearly went bankrupt as a result. Lobstermen in Maine are concerned enough about acidification that they have traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to support important research that will tell them how lobster might be impacted.

As a scientist who has been studying the impacts of ocean acidification for 11 years, I can tell you the truth: ocean acidity has increased 30% since the Industrial Revolution!

This means that shellfish could become scarce on people’s dinner plates—and hard to come by for hungry ocean wildlife.

The EPA’s mission is to protect our health and the environment. But, how can they do that if the head of the agency ignores proven impacts to coastal communities?

Ocean acidification is real! Please join me in taking action today by contacting your Senators.

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State and International Governments, Tribal Nations, Businesses Join Forces to Combat Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/14/state-and-international-governments-tribal-nations-businesses-join-forces-to-combat-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/14/state-and-international-governments-tribal-nations-businesses-join-forces-to-combat-ocean-acidification/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 21:29:21 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13504

How often have you gotten information you can really use from a friend, neighbor or family member? The kind that makes you say, “Ohhhhh…. That is SO helpful!” The key to these “aha moments” is often simply being well-connected with others having the same experience.

Yesterday a new initiative launched that will increase the number of aha moments about ways to take action on ocean acidification, raising awareness across the country and around the world of this threat at a time when it is clearly needed. The International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, organized by the Pacific Coast Collaborative and supported by Ocean Conservancy, brings together nations, including Tribal nations, states, cities, businesses and organizations from around the world to combat ocean acidification caused by increasing carbon emissions. These are immediate and critical threats to coastal economies and ocean ecosystems, but sometimes it’s not obvious where a specific community can dive in and take direct action.

California Governor Jerry Brown said at yesterday’s launch, “We’re not waiting for anyone—we’ll partner with cities, states, nations, businesses,” to take action on ocean acidification. California is a founding member of the Alliance, along with Oregon, Washington, France, Chile, the Quileute Tribe, Quinault Nation, and Suquamish Tribe, the City of Imperial Beach, California, Cross River State, Nigeria and a number of affiliate members (including Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association and many others).

California Governor Jerry Brown announces the launch of the International Ocean Acidification Alliance during a recent press conference in San Diego, California

There’s a place for everyone in the Alliance—groups and governments that have already taken sustained action, and those considering how best to jump in. Alliance members will be able to exchange information on what has worked and what is known. The Alliance will work to ensure that the highest levels of political leadership understand that taking action on ocean acidification means protecting coastal communities and livelihoods. It will also advance the science of ocean acidification, take meaningful actions to reduce its causes, protect the environment and coastal communities from acidification, expand public awareness and build sustained support for taking more action to protect communities, businesses and our coastal way of life.

Conversations late in the day turned to discussing how Alliance members will put together action plans to describe how they intend to make progress. They will work together with other Alliance members to trade ideas and best practices.  The day concluded with a sense of optimism and excitement about the potential that the Alliance represents a way to link the best available science and stories from communities impacted by acidification to the highest levels of political leadership—to ensure that this issue gets the attention and resources it needs.

For more information on the Alliance, check www.oaalliance.org or email Jessie@oaalliance.org.

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Carbon Dioxide Threatens the Ocean’s Speed Bumps http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/10/carbon-dioxide-threatens-the-oceans-speed-bumps/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/10/carbon-dioxide-threatens-the-oceans-speed-bumps/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2016 14:30:50 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13301

You may have heard coral reefs called “the rainforests of the sea,” but did you know they could also be called the “speed bumps of the ocean?” Not only do coral reefs host an estimated 25% of ocean species, but they also slow down and shrink waves that approach land. This keeps hundreds of millions of people safe and dry around the world. At the same time, coral reefs also offer these coastal dwellers many opportunities—for nutrition, their livelihoods and income based on coral reef-area fishing or tourism.

Carbon dioxide, primarily stemming from fossil fuel burning, is poised to change all that. It’s causing the ocean to acidify, which slows the growth and reproduction of coral reefs, and it’s indirectly causing the ocean and atmosphere to heat up. Together, ocean acidification and warming are helping break down the physical structure of coral reefs, taking away their ability to serve as speed bumps that protect coastal communities from tropical storms and tsunamis.

In a new study, my colleagues and I compiled data on human dependence on coral reefs, warming and acidification to see where we are at greatest risk from carbon dioxide-caused changes. Where ocean acidification and warming will worsen most quickly, reefs are expected to suffer most from this one-two punch. That means people in the Coral Triangle countries of Southeast Asia and the Great Barrier Reef region will experience the loss of coral reef benefits most strongly.

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough research and monitoring in these regions at greatest risk. The South Pacific’s coral reefs border many isolated islands and atolls, so studying conditions across the region is challenging. But investing there is worthwhile—increased research and monitoring in the South Pacific could uncover places where refuges exist for corals from the steady increase of acidification and heat. Naturally occurring safe spaces could provide places for corals to hide, and from there they could send out larvae to “reseed” the oceans when conditions improve in the future.

Many of the coastal communities who face greatest risk from losing coral reefs are not the ones who contribute most to worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. It’s inspiring that the ocean is now being considered in global negotiations about emissions—recall that last year’s Paris Agreement specifically names “the ocean,” a first for a global agreement. Tomorrow, at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, where international leaders are meeting to continue international progress on climate, the Ocean and Climate Forum official side event will focus on how we can integrate ocean and climate action into international agreements.

One such small way to encourage action on ocean acidification is the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification. Nations who join the Alliance are pledging to begin or continue efforts to address ocean acidification, including advancing scientific understanding and expanding public awareness, and to share their knowledge with other members of the Alliance as the international community searches for solutions. Speed on this front will be good news for the “speed bumps of the sea.”

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When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Crabbing http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/20/when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-go-crabbing/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/20/when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-go-crabbing/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 17:00:36 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12897

What happens when feisty, tough Dungeness crabs meet an even tougher bunch of fishermen? We’ll find out this fall in Discovery Channel’s new series, Dungeon Cove. The show highlights how the Newport, Oregon Dungeness crab fleet and the local community handle the dangers, victories and worries of the fishing season.

It’s clear that Dungeness fishing isn’t for the weak. Not only are the crabs often hard to find, hiding cleverly from fishermen or avoiding cunningly placed traps, but the working conditions are also dangerous. Simply exiting the Newport harbor is difficult at times, when wind and sea state cause waves to pile up and challenge the best helmsmen. Family members on land worry about their seagoing loved ones every day. Layer physical danger on top of economic concerns—many Dungeness fishermen are owner-operators, or essentially small business owners—and you have one tough job.

This thriving fishery currently supports communities from California to Alaska. In 2014, the fishery brought in $212 million, even though the season is short, only lasting a few months per year. Those crabbing communities were hard hit last year when a toxic bloom of Pseudonitschia algae postponed the fishery opening for one month in Oregon and Washington, but five months in California. Dungeness crab and other West Coast shellfish had feasted on these algae, and domoic acid, an algal toxin, built up in the shellfish meats. Domoic acid does not harm shellfish, but it sickens people and other marine life. The fishing season delay put crabbers on uncertain hold, straining their bank accounts and chilling their business purchases.

The fishery is recovering today, but scientists and fishermen wonder what the future will bring. Early research shows that ocean acidification, a growing challenge facing West Coast fisheries and hatcheries, could affect the Dungeness fishery in a few ways. Ocean acidification may cause Pseudonitschia to produce more domoic acid. It also may cause fewer young Dungeness crabs to survive to adulthood, or it could force them to grow more slowly. In fisheries like this, where time is money, ocean acidification could cost coastal communities dearly.

West Coast states are mounting an aggressive response, though. Members of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, including California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, have developed a Call to Action on ocean acidification that invites new signatories to commit to taking actions that improve understanding of ocean acidification in their marine waters, to mitigate causes, and to adapt to unavoidable changes. Other nations, states, tribes and organizations are encouraged to sign the Call to Action and demonstrate their own commitment to meaningful actions that address ocean acidification. Members will be a part of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, a network poised to share action plans, knowledge and expand awareness on acidification. We are hopeful that this will lead to even more widespread and urgent action on acidification.

Josh Churchman, a San Francisco Bay area crabber explained recently that Dungeness crabs, too, are “really aggressive.” They’re so aggressive that “if they were 4 feet across, nobody would go swimming. You wouldn’t go wading! They would grab you by the leg and drag you out.” Sounds like it’ll be a fair fight between the crabbers and the crabs! Join us as we tune in to watch the action in Dungeon Cove on the Discovery Channel this fall!

Learn more with our video below:

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Corals are Like… What?! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/25/corals-are-like-what/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/25/corals-are-like-what/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 13:30:33 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12444

This week we’re celebrating all things coral! It’s no secret that coral reefs are spectacular ecosystems, but we wanted to do a deep dive into what exactly makes corals so special. Check out nine ways corals are even cooler than you thought:

1)  Corals are like speed bumps. They slow down waves and lessen wave energy. This protects coastlines from hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis. Coral reefs protect the shoreline in 81 countries around the world, sheltering the 200 million people living along those coasts.

2)  Corals are like nurseries. They provide homes and hiding places for marine animals large and small. An estimated 25% of all fish species call reefs home, and even more fish species spend part of their young lives there. Losing reefs to ocean warming or acidification costs animals their homes.

3) Corals are like history books. Corals’ hard calcium carbonate skeletons contain bands, like tree rings, that record environmental changes in temperature, water chemistry and sediment. These records help scientists reconstruct what past ages were like before humans kept records.

4) Corals are like tropical rainforests. Both corals and tropical rainforests support an incredible array of life. Both are also under stress from human activities. Rising temperatures, heavy fishing (hunting) pressure and physical destruction are just some of the human-caused problems hurting both corals and rainforests.

5) Corals are like Venus flytraps. Some corals can eat passing plankton by grabbing them from the ocean and ingesting them. This provides a source of fatty acids for corals, and it is thought to help corals resist bleaching and other stresses.

6) Corals are like solar panels. Coral animals contain “symbionts,” which are small cells that photosynthesize, or harvest the sun’s energy, and pass some of it along to the coral in exchange for housing.

7) Corals are like flowers. To reproduce, most corals release gametes, or eggs and sperm, into the water. This is similar to how flowers release pollen (gametes) into the wind. Both corals and flowers decide when to reproduce based on temperature and lighting.

8) Corals are like medicine cabinets. Coral reefs and the animals that live around them have many chemical defenses to drive away predators. These chemical compounds could be the inspiration for future medicines, nutritional supplements, pesticides and more.

9) Corals are like rock quarries. Broken bits of coral create silt and sand that forms seafloor and sandy beaches in many tropical locations. Some coral breakdown is normal, like when parrotfish crunch off bites of coral to digest the living coral tissue, and spit out or excrete the hard skeleton crumbs. Other breakdown isn’t normal, such as the physical and chemical breakdown of coral by ocean acidification, dynamite fishing, ship strikes or other human-caused stress.


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