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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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One Endangered Species We’d All Like to See Go Extinct

Posted On February 28, 2014 by

“THANK YOU.” For years, these infamous words have been seen all too frequently on the plastic bags found floating around pasture lands, city streets, beaches and in the ocean. The elusive plastic bag continues to be at the core of the ocean trash dialogue and California legislators will once again try to pass a statewide ban this year that would prohibit its distribution in the state–cleaner beaches and cityscapes being the primary justification. Last year, the attempt failed to pass by only a handful of votes.

People around the world are all too familiar with these items; volunteers for Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have picked up more than 10 million plastic bags off beaches and other landscapes over the past three decades. In 2012 alone, the number was 1,019,902 to be precise. We know because we work with volunteers to count every last one. Ten million bags require more than 1,200 barrels of oil to produce. And once in the environment, a diverse array of animals, both in the ocean and on land, ingest these items with detrimental impacts on their health as a result.

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Youngsters Need Energy to Grow

Posted On February 26, 2014 by

There’s a shift happening in the way scientists are thinking about how ocean acidification affects marine creatures. Originally, when researchers in the Southern Ocean watched the shells of tiny marine snails dissolve in high-carbon dioxide water, they suspected that similar animals with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons would most likely be harmed by ocean acidification. After all, this made intuitive sense: Ocean acidification means there is more carbon dioxide in the water, which lowers the water’s pH. All of this decreases the amount  of carbonate ions in the ocean—the chemical building blocks found in animals’ shells. Wouldn’t decreases in these building blocks rob animals of the very things they need to build their shells?

Ocean acidification biological research has looked at this “building blocks” hypothesis for a while. Many excellent studies have shown that time after time, decreases in seawater carbonate ion levels are associated with decreases in shell building by corals, plankton, oysters, and more. But that clear relationship doesn’t hold for crabs and lobsters, even though they too have calcium carbonate in their shells. And different shell formers respond to different degrees of change. What’s going on?

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Scallops Feel Acidification’s Impact; Lessons to Be Learned From Oyster Growers

Posted On February 26, 2014 by

Photo: Rita Leistner/Ocean Conservancy

The Internet is buzzing: A scallop farming business in British Columbia, Canada, has lost $10 million and 10 million scallops because of ocean acidification. Island Scallops’ CEO Rob Saunders’ despair came through crystal clear in his quotes: “I’m not sure we’re going to make it,” and “[Acidification] has really kicked the hell out of us.”

Saunders has been in the business for 35 years and has never seen anything like this. This is a shocking story for many – corrosive water because of carbon pollution single-handedly destroying a scallop business? It sounds eerily familiar to what Pacific Northwest hatchery owners in Washington and Oregon experienced in 2007 and 2008, when oyster larvae were dying by the billions. Whiskey Creek Hatchery and Taylor Shellfish Farms lost nearly 80 percent of their businesses due to increasingly acidic water.

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A Thousand-Yard-Long Buffet Table

Posted On February 24, 2014 by

Beautiful day for some science at #2014OSM. Photo: Sarah Cooley

Reading through the program for the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting, starting today in Honolulu, I’m like a hungry person at a buffet. But this isn’t just any buffet. Imagine the longest buffet table you’ve ever seen, loaded with all the dishes you love plus hundreds of interesting-looking new ones. Like that buffet table, this meeting program is packed with presentations about aspects of marine science I’ve always wanted to learn more about, and many that I’ve never thought of.

On my first read-through, I marked everything that looked interesting. And that wound up being about 300 talks, posters and plenary sessions over five days! I made the classic buffet eater’s mistake: My eyes are bigger than my stomach, or in this case, my brain. My selections range widely: Not only did I highlight every ocean acidification item, but I also highlighted things related to long-standing interests, like the nitrogen cycle and marine viruses. (Did you know there are viruses in the ocean? They attack the bacteria and other small creatures at the bottom of the ocean food web, and they’re really important in global carbon and nitrogen cycles!)

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Scientists Discover How BP Oil Affects Tuna Hearts

Posted On February 24, 2014 by

Photo: NOAA

During the spring and summer of 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster released over 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This was an unprecedented amount of toxic material discharged into the Gulf, and scientists have been researching its impacts on marine and coastal wildlife ever since. One of the species of concern is the imperiled Atlantic bluefin tuna, which was spawning at the time and location of the BP disaster.

In a new study, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that crude oil, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), disrupts the cellular pathway that allows juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tuna heart cells to beat effectively. This causes a slowed heart rate, reduced ability of muscular heart tissue to contract, and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Crude oil is known to be toxic to the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. But until now, the details of how crude oil harmed fish hearts were unclear.

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Misguided Lawsuit Threatens the Chesapeake Bay’s Recovery

Posted On February 13, 2014 by

Terrapin Beach Park in Stevenson, Maryland

There was a time when the water of Chesapeake Bay would appear to boil, but it was actually millions of oysters ejecting filtered water. The bay’s waters, the old timers tell us, were crystal clear. But agricultural run-off and untreated wastewater flowed into the Chesapeake for years, fouling the water and making our nation’s largest estuary a shadow of its former self.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the cleanup efforts of six states within the bay’s watershed, including Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The efforts to limit pollution going into the bay included improving municipal wastewater treatment systems (known as point source pollution) and reducing agricultural runoff (known as nonpoint source pollution). Plans were in place, actions were being taken, and traction was being made.

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Western Australia Shark Cull

Posted On February 13, 2014 by

Tiger shark photo: Matthew Potenski, 2011 photo contest

Many species of sharks and rays around the world are in trouble, and current events in Australia remind us of that. The government of Western Australia is presently implementing a controversial “shark cull” policy in response to recent highly publicized shark attacks near Western Australian beaches. The policy consists of deploying baited hooks about a mile off of various Western Australian beaches, aimed specifically at catching large sharks. Any shark larger than 10 feet is viewed as a threat to public safety and is to be “humanely” killed; the main targets of the cull are tiger sharks, bull sharks and great white sharks. Great white sharks are a protected species in Australia, and state authorities were given a special exemption from Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be able to kill them. The shark cull is a pilot program. If it were to continue after the April 30 trial period ends, there would have to be a full environmental act assessment.

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