Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ships Helping Marine Scientists

In order to gather large data sets over decades and over ocean and sea basins, cruise and container ships are going to collect data on water temperature, ocean currents and even cloud cover and height. They hope that by enlisting these ships, scientists will be able to answer questions regarding large ocean patterns, such as the changing path of the Gulf Stream. This long term data is usually very hard to obtain, and the cost of renting research vessels could cost upwards of 15 grand a day. Cargo and cruise ships, then will become vitally important in collecting this data.
Some ships have already been enlisted, such as the Norrona, a ferry that makes a roundtrip every week stopping in Denmark, Scotland and Iceland, Rossby hopes to learn more about the cold waters emptying out of the Arctic seas into the northern Atlantic Ocean. Scientists also have been using instruments attached to the cargo ship Oleander since 1992 to monitor the Gulf Stream as the vessel passes between Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Bermuda. And another ship, Nuka Arctic, has been helping since 1999 to give scientists a look at the Gulf Stream along its path between Denmark and Greenland. Royal Caribbean even built a ship, dubbed Explorer of the Seas, that has both room for cruise passengers, scientists working in oceanic and atmospheric laboratories and a place where they can interact.
This is pretty cool stuff. The importance of long term data sets is vitally important to understanding physical and biological processes, and this is a great way to go. By equipping ships that already make these passages around the world with the tools needed, it will most likely be much cheaper than renting research vessels. Plus there is a glaring lack of long term data sets. This idea is big news. Check out the whole article here.

Monday, February 27, 2006

This is Awesome!!!!

Trilobis 65 is a semi-submerged
dwelling environment. Reaching 20 metres in length designed by Giancarlo Zema for habitation by six people at sea. It is ideal for living in bays, atolls and maritime parks. The main aim of the project is to allow anyone to live in a unique environment through a self sufficient, non-polluting dwelling cell in unison with their ocean surroundings.

Trilobis 65 has been designed on four separate levels connected by a spiraling staircase.

The top level is 3.5 metres above
sea level. The next level is at 1.4 metres above sea level and hosts the daylight zone with all services and allowing outdoor access. The third level is situated at 0.8 metre below sea level, semi-submerged, and is devoted to the night-time zone. At 3.0 metres below sea level, totally submerged, there is the underwater observation bulb, an intimate and mediative place.

The shape of Trilobis 65 allows the annular aggregation of more
modular units, creating island colonies.

THIS ROCKS... I am quite certain I will never be able to afford one, but still... I would so live in one of these things... on the water, self sufficient... amazing!!!! see the whole page here.

Perry Institute

The Perry Institute is a non-profit organization that promotes education and research dedicated to improving understanding about the Caribbean region's marine environment. While the organization is based out of Florida, it has research facilities on Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas, whose location was chosen because of its close proximity to the United States and its wide range of relatively untouched marine habitats. Chosen as a long term research site and field station, the laboratory facilities are some of the largest and most productive in the region. The station, also known as Caribbean Marine Research Center (CMRC), is one of six national research centers for NOAA's Undersea Research Program. Much of the research that is focused on ecologically and economically important species such as the queen conch, spiny lobster, snapper, and Nassau grouper. Similarly, coral reefs are vital to this region and ecological studies are focused on species recruitment, reproduction, and biodiversity. In supporting research on fisheries and coral reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, researchers are focusing efforts to determine the effectiveness and design of Marine Protected Areas.
But the real reason I wrote this post is because they have 4 reef webcams set up, one of which has lights for a night time look at the reef. I think its pretty cool and worth checking out. Look at one of the 4 webcams here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Mutant Algae Hydrogen Factory

Thanks to Tait, I heard about this. Check out his site, Eltaito.com... anyway:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have engineered a strain of pond scum that could, with further refinements, produce vast amounts of hydrogen through photosynthesis.

The work, led by plant physiologist Tasios Melis, is so far unpublished. But if it proves correct, it would mean a major breakthrough in using algae as an industrial factory, not only for hydrogen, but for a wide range of products, from biodiesel to cosmetics.

The new strain of algae, known as C. reinhardtii, has truncated chlorophyll antennae within the chloroplasts of the cells, which serves to increase the organism's energy efficiency. In addition, it makes the algae a lighter shade of green, which in turn allows more sunlight deeper into an algal culture and therefore allows more cells to photosynthesize. To read the rest of the article, click here.

This is pretty cool, although enviro-hippies will probably have a field day because this is genetically engineered algae, but either way this is big news. If scientists can further engineer the algae to be more efficient at producing hydrogen, and produce hydrogen all the time, it would be best, but baby steps. These algae can be producing the fuel of the future if the government will stop cutting funding to scientific research groups. Whether this algae will prove useful remains to be seen, but it is none-the-less big news.


Can the greatest predator in world history still be alive? It is highly unlikely that this shark, which biologists guess grew anywhere between 60 and 80 feet, and had a mouth that could swallow a modern great white whole, could still exist. However, evidence suggests that it became extinct much more recently than previously thought. While some would have you believe that it went extinct 1-2 million years ago, researchers have found relatively "fresh" teeth in geologic terms, only 11,000 years old. Is it possible that megalodon existed when men were crossing the Berring Straight? These teeth suggest that, and while no white megalodon teeth have been found, is it possible these creatures still exist, hidden in the unexplored depths? Again, this is highly unlikely, but the coelacanth did remain hidden for 60 million years. However, it's hard to compare a hidden 6 foot maximum size fish and a 60 foot giant, which should be much more difficult to "miss,"in my opinion. So does it still exist? It would be nice to imagine that there's something lurking in the depths of the ocean we have not yet seen, but then again, I don't like the idea of something that big sharing the same ocean that I love to dive. I leave you with this excerpt from the site listed above, an Australian account of a giant shark:

In the year 1918 I recorded the sensation that had been caused among the "outside" crayfish men at Port Stephens, when, for several days, they refused to go to sea to their regular fishing grounds in the vicinity of Broughton Island. The men had been at work on the fishing grounds--which lie in deep water--when an immense shark of almost unbelievable proportions put in an appearance, lifting pot after pot containing many crayfishes, and taking, as the men said, "pots, mooring lines and all." These crayfish pots, it should be mentioned, were about 3 feet 6 inches in diameter and frequently contained from two to three dozen good-sized crayfish each weighing several pounds. The men were all unanimous that this shark was something the like of which they had never dreamed of. In company with the local Fisheries Inspector I questioned many of the men very closely and they all agreed as to the gigantic stature of the beast. But the lengths they gave were, on the whole, absurd. I mention them, however, as an indication of the state of mind which this unusual giant had thrown them into. And bear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of sharks as well. One of the crew said the shark was "three hundred feet long at least"! Others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood--about 115 feet! They affirmed that the water "boiled" over a large space when the fish swam past. They were all familiar with whales, which they had often seen passing at sea, but this was a vast shark. They had seen its terrible head which was "at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson's Bay." Impossible, of course! But these were prosaic and rather stolid men, not given to 'fish stories' nor even to talking about their catches. Further, they knew that the person they were talking to (myself) had heard all the fish stories years before! One of the things that impressed me was that they all agreed as to the ghostly whitish color of the vast fish."(3)

In this popular account, we apparently have credible witnesses, and a knowledgeable investigator, Stead, who believed the fishermen were telling the truth (and that they may have witnessed a living Megalodon). I believe the "fact" that they did not return to sea for days could be added to their credibility, and to their loss in wages after the apparently traumatic experience (unless they were hoaxing the entire event, of course.) We also have some rather strange features in this report, including the tremendous lengths the fishermen reported, if we cannot attribute these to exaggeration due to intense fear. If we cannot, then it seems if Megalodon has survived, it may have grown bigger, and I am not sure which idea is scarier.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Take the Pledge to Save Our Oceans

That's right, you can take the pledge to save our oceans. By pledging you will send a letter to the Whitehouse ( I have, its already written, you just enter your info and they forward it for you, of which I received an immediate reply. I will post both below), encourage your friends and family to check out the Ocean's Alive website, and eat smarter, by choosing more eco-friendly seafoods. Its simple, it doesn't take any time and it helps spread the word. Here is the letter and the Whitehouse response:
(cc Congress)

Dear President Bush:

Once thought to be an inexhaustible resource, our oceans are in fact vulnerable. From icy seas to warm tropical waters, more than two thirds of fisheries are facing collapse, runoff and pollution from offshore drilling is polluting coastal waters, and coral reefs are dying.

The recent findings of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the independent Pew Commission have sparked new interest in this looming oceans crisis, creating a window of opportunity for action.

No American president has yet taken a consistent stand to champion the oceans, despite their immense economic and environmental value. Now is your chance to leave an ocean legacy comparable to that of Teddy Roosevelt on land.

We need a Teddy Roosevelt of the oceans. I urge you to support measures that:

  • Use protected areas and other tools to protect fragile ocean and coastal habitats;
  • Use market-based incentives and science-based management to transform failing fisheries into sustainable ones;
  • Curb runoff that pollutes the oceans and harms wildlife;
  • Maintain the longstanding bipartisan moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling;
  • Establish adequate safeguards on ocean aquaculture sites to protect marine ecosystems;
  • Enforce conservation laws to protect ocean and coastal wildlife and essential ecosystems;
  • Double federal funding for ocean science, exploration and education over the next 5 years; and
  • Improve coordination of ocean protections programs by creating a Cabinet-level interagency National Oceans Council to conserve, protect and restore marine life.
Thank you.

and the Whitehouse response:
On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.
We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.
Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House is
unable to respond to every message, and therefore this response
is an autoreply.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.
DAMN THEM!!! Maybe we can clog their server with these enviro-messages and they will have to read some of them.


So probably many people are already aware of this but I will talk about it anyway. Tuvalu is a small island nation of about 11,000 people, living on 9 coral atolls totaling approximately 10 square miles (smallest country in the world other than the Vatican). Its south of the equator and west of the international date line (north of the Fiji islands and west of the Solomon Islands). This small country has no industry, burns little petroleum and barely contributes any carbon pollution. However, they may be the first peoples to experience global warming firsthand. Rising sea levels, higher intensity of tropical storms and higher water temperatures are all creating problems for this tiny nation whose highest elevations is a mere 4.6 meters above sea level. These Tuvaluans could become the world's first climate refugees, their whole culture may need to be transplanted.
Now, several times a year with the lunar tides, portions of the nation are engulfed in water, and during storm events, surge floods even more. While the islands aren't in imminent danger, the effects of warming accumulates year after year. "Even if we are not completely flooded, " said former assistant Environmental minister and now assistant secretary for Foreign Affairs, Paani Laupepa, "in 50 to 70 years we face increasingly strong storms and cyclones, changing weather patterns, damage to our coral reefs from higher ocean temperatures, and flooding of all our gardens." Not growing enough food and decreasing fish catch if reefs are damaged would mean "importing more food, more foreign exchange, and more health and diet problems, " he said.
For more coastal areas that can soon be effected, including some in our very own country, click here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Look Out for Portland...

Maine that is... Last fall saw the grand opening of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. Maine is already a beautiful place, from what I have heard, and Portland is one of America's hottest small city, with its historic seaport and vibrant economy. When the new institute opened on Portland's coast last October, it brought Maine one step closer to being one of the premier marine research centers in the world. Mayor James Cohen and other city officials are working with members of Maine's marine science community to develop a 10-year plan to raise Portland's profile as a marine science city by 2015. Once the plan is adopted, Portland hopes to attract biotechnology companies that would include a focus on marine research and technology development. The city would work with leaders in the business and research communities to expand existing institutions and draw ocean-related companies. Portland already hosts a cluster of marine research facilities, including the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the University of Maine System, the University of New England and the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System. Those entities are part of the 26-member Maine Marine Research Coalition, which includes the Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay and the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center in Walpole.
Just to get an idea, the GMRI just opened a 44,000 sq ft lab facility, with a
Fishery Ecosystem Research Wing (wet labs and analytical labs, office suites, shared conference rooms) and The Sam L. Cohen Center for Interactive Learning (live and digital exhibits tailored to serve Maine middle school students and teachers). And there are plans to build an additional 25,000 sq ft facility devoted to marine biotechnology. There are number of research activities already being conducted, including trawl surveys, shrimp fisheries, lobster diet and cod-tagging. There are also plans for long term ecological research projects. The combination of research and public outreach, I believe, is best. Its not only important to do research, but its important to get that information to the public in a way which they can understand. This enables them to make more informed decisions when it comes to buying products, fishing and even voting. I am very interested in seeing these facilities and if the expansion of the institute and plans to beechen a premier facility follow through, Portland might be my new abode before long.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fossil Overturns Ideas of Jurassic Mammals

WASHINGTON Feb 23, 2006 (AP)— The discovery of a furry, beaver-like animal that lived at the time of dinosaurs has overturned more than a century of scientific thinking about Jurassic mammals.

The find shows that the ecological role of mammals in the time of dinosaurs was far greater than previously thought, said Zhe-Xi Luo, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

The animal is the earliest swimming mammal to have been found and was the most primitive mammal to be preserved with fur, which is important to helping keep a constant body temperature, Luo said in a telephone interview.

For over a century, the stereotype of mammals living in that era has been of tiny, shrew-like creatures scurrying about in the underbrush trying to avoid the giant creatures that dominated the planet, Luo commented.

Now, a research team that included Luo has found that 164 million years ago, the newly discovered mammal with a flat, scaly tail like a beaver, vertebra like an otter and teeth like a seal was swimming in lakes and eating fish.

To read the whole article, click here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Possibly 6 New Species

There is ongoing research of pelagic fish species, known as Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystems program (MAR-ECO), in part for the Census for Marine Life that has been getting a lot of attention lately. There is little knowledge on pelagic fish due to their mostly nomadic type lifestyles and the fact that pelagic deep sea research has been very limited. Many of the collections are taking place along the under sea mountain range known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Using many different tools, including massive trawl nets that can be triggered to open and close at specific depths, submersibles, remotely operated vehicles, and acoustic survey instruments, over 300 different species have been collected. Among the 300+ species are 30 not known to occur at the MAR region and possibly 6 new species altogether. The researchers also had many rare finds, including some of the largest dragonfishes and anglerfishes ever collected. Anglerfishes, for example, typically fit in the palm of your hand, but one sample weighed in at 35 pounds.
One of the major findings, however, is that deep sea pelagics might be much more
closely associated with features such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge than ever before realized. The group has now collected several pieces of key evidence that these fish are congregating at the ridge, likely for spawning. Most of those that were collected were gravid females, suggesting spawning activity. Some important indirect evidence of this was also recorded as a scattered layer at 2000 meters detected using acoustic devices, which reflects images of materials or animals at certain depths. This acoustic images suggest large aggregations of fish at this depth in the water.
To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Leopard Searobin

So today I was identifying samples from Lostman's River. If you remember a few posts ago I talked about oyster reefs, and this area has quite a few oyster bars; it is an area where a freshwater outflow from the Everglades meets the Gulf of Mexico. Normally, oyster bars and reefs support rich communities, however high turbidity in this particular area had led us to believe otherwise.
While I do not have the actual figures, we are still finishing up, I can say that from what I have seen there are a decent number of animals, mainly very small juveniles. There are definitely more animals than I expected to get having traveled to the area and conducted the sampling, but not as many as animals as one would expect from a healthy oyster reef. (That being said, I don't believe this oyster reef area is healthy, I am not even sure that the oysters here are even alive anymore, probably due to the sedimentation coming out of the Everglades. Apparently, as I have heard from some of the veteran researchers, this area used to be crystal clear before Andrew in 92 destroyed a lot of trees in the glades, allowing for erosion and now the highly turbid water we find today.)
Anyway, today I came across a searobin in a sample that I had never seen before. Not that I claim to have seen every fish, but we do come into contact with searobins up north and sometimes tropicals. But this searobin turned out to be a leopard searobin, Prionotus scitulus. Anyways, its not particularly exciting but I thought it was worthy of a mention here. Searobins occurs in bays and estuaries and the continental shelf, and this one is no different, rarely, if ever, found below 45m. This species is identifiable by the two spots on the dorsal fin, one after the 1st spine and one between spines 4 and 5. The barred searobin has the same markings, and the difference is that leopard searobins have no scales on their throat region. The leopard searobin stays smaller than the two species I was previously familiar with and had no commercial value (although I do hear that they are decent eating, the tails have a lot of meat).
I hope you learned something today.


So I won't go into great detail here, but check out EcologyFund.com. Its a cool site where you can donate to various organizations and you can also click on the buttons to save land for free. This works because every time you click on the save for free buttons, the sponsor orginizations donate the money to buy the land. Apparently if you check into the donor organizations, they double the donation. Whether or not that happens would require more research, but you should definitely check it out.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mark J Thomas

Well, on Sunday afternoon I went over to the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. It was quite impressive, there was a lot of really good fine arts, but I was most impressed by the photography. I was particularly intrigued by the wildlife photography of Mark J Thomas. He had a some very nice underwater shots but many other wildlife shots as well. You should definitely check out his site to see what I am talking about. However, what I want to talk about is the notecards he sells, designed with his philosophy in mind: "Respect the animals, their habitats, and the rights of the other people who have also come to enjoy them. Besides, simply trying to make a beautiful photograph, it is important to me that each of my photographs also tells a story. Through my photography I hope to help people become more aware of our wondrous natural world and how important it is that we preserve it."

The notecards are printed on recycled paper, and have a special coating which allows them to be recycled again more easily. These cards not only depict many endangered or threatened species, the back of the card contains accurate, interesting and informative paragraphs to increase people's awareness of nature. Also, a portion of the sales of the notecards goes toward various conservation groups that is used to help protect and preserve wildlife.

Also check out Vanderwold photography and Lightscapes. They have some other pretty cool wildlife and landscape photography.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


A new species of flatworm had been discovered in Guam (although I am hard pressed to find out when or what its been named, because the articles online that I have found disclose neither tidbit of information). Fortunately, the articles do mention why this particular yellow, marine species of flatworm is so fascinating. It uses tetrodotoxin, a puffer fish toxin to hunt its prey. It can kill things such as mollusks for food. The study showed that the flatworm wrapped up the mollusks by engulfing the prey and presumable sealing it in a bubble of neurotoxin. However, this toxin does not act as a weapon for hunting. It could also double as a self defense mechanism against fish predators. These flatworms probably obtain the toxin from bacteria within their bodies, but many flatworms obtain toxins from the foods which they consume.
To learn more about tetrodotoxin and the animals other than puffers that also use this powerful weapon, such as frogs, newts and the blue ringed octopus, click here.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Fish Counts Get Hi-Tech

Scientists are starting to use hi-tech NAVY equipment, formerly used to locate enemy subs, for fish counts, according to an article in the Sun Coast Today. Fisheries scientists are using this equipment on Georges Bank, in hopes that it proves more accurate than trawls. This torpedo shaped device snaps digital pictures of the fish using special cameras, and those images are used in combination with SONAR data to produce estimates of fish resources. The scientists feel this is more accurate than the old trawling technique because those surveys do not account for fishes that swim above or bounce off the net. Heading the effort are gradate students and faculty from UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology. They are using and underwater platform with a rotating SONAR device, which sends sound waves through the water. When the waves come into contact with fish, it bounces back an echo. This allows the scientists to gauge density and size of fish, but it cannot differentiate between species. The low light cameras, on the underwater vehicle mentioned above, snap pictures of the fish and the scientists pool together the data, generating estimates of fish populations.

This is good from two standpoints. One is that while trawling may catch everything, it is in no way 100% accurate. A lot of money and research is going into sonar sensing for fish, sav, everything. The technology is there and it can continue to develop to be very accurate. Second, trawling is devastating ecologically. The one thing I dislike about science research is all the death involved. Trawling kills hundreds if not thousands of fish, many of which are not the targeted species, commercial or scientific. It also changes the sea floor characteristics, removing structure, vegetation, etc. It is great that a technology is being developed to monitor fish populations that is both scientifically accurate, environmentally sound, and conservationist friendly at the same time. (Just as a reference, the photos are a reef before and after a trawl.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I know that it is old news, but I figured it was worthy of mention here. The December tsunami of 2004 wreaked much havoc over land. However, it left much of the local reefs untouched. A multinational team of scientists did surveys, recording both fish sizes and invertebrates, including a method to determine new coral settlement, a measure of recovery. This survey concluded that relatively little damage was sustained by the coral reefs, and even in areas where there was coral damage, there was still considerable amounts of live coral. Damage included overturned corals and broken coral where land objects like trees where dragged along the corals with the receding water. The damage from the quake that caused by the tsunami, however, was much more severe. The damage here ranged from lifted reefs, shattered beds and overturned coral. Some of this was caused because the quake tilted some islands, where one end went up 2 meters and the other end sank 2 meters. One thing the survey did notice was high turbidity levels from runoff, something caused by stripped land from the tsunami and large rainfall events. More coral damage could come as a result of this turbidity and the land damage, but this remains to be seen. Low abundances of food fish also indicate overfishing. The combination of this sedimentation, turbidity and overfishing can be more devastating to the reef than the actual tsunami. Check out reefbase for more about this study.
This makes sense that the damage to reefs was minimal from the tsunami. Tsunamis are very fast but when they start they have a small wave height. So while there may have been a surge over the reef, it wasn't a devastating wave like the one that hits land. As a wave approaches land, the slope creates drag against the water and slows the fast wave, especially at thee bottom. The surface water is moving slightly faster and builds up on top of the slower moving water, creating the breaking wave. While this is how all breaking waves are created, this is greatly modified in tsunamis. The energy of thee wave remains constant, so as the high speed of a tsunami wave is slowed dramatically by the slope of the shore, the wave height must increase dramatically, creating large breaking waves that sweep over land when the amplitude over open ocean may only be one or two meters. So, it makes perfect sense that the damage from the actual tsunami was minimal. What you never think about it the tsunami's devastating impact on land can create greater problems for the local reefs. This is something that should be monitored, how local ecosystems react to natural disasters. Very interesting stuff...

Monday, February 13, 2006


It is not something you really give thought to...Really... You turn on your faucet and water comes out, you flush your toilet and it goes somewhere... But one day, maybe as little as 15 years from now, wars will be fought for water. There is not enough fresh water to sustain the growing population of the world and big corporations, following the advice of the World Bank are trying to "buy" all the fresh water. By purchasing bottled water, you are supporting big corporations like Nestle and Coca Cola whose practices include buying purchasing springs and creeks in mostly poor communities (like Zephyrhills in Florida) or countries (like India) and cut that water off from the people who need them. They do this to pump millions of gallons from springs and aquifers to make bottled water and other products, to make a profit, while taking that water that is so vital to the people of that area and not allowing the people to use it. (in Zephyrhills, for example, this community spring in a real back country community, which the people used the spring as drinking water, swimming hole etc, only to show up one day to find it surrounded by fences and barbed wire and pumping to a Nestle bottling plant in a neighboring town) In India, where there is little drinkable water anyways, companies like Coke and Pepsi use the water to make their sodas and bottled water products, products which the people who live their cannot afford. We need to make a decision for ourselves, is water for profit or for life... I mean these aren't the only reasons bottled water is bad, the waste of the bottles which usually end up in dumps, the toxic chemicals needed to make plastic, the cost (up to 1000 times more than tap). I am against the privatization of water, and I never drink bottled water anyways, but I encourage you all to check out the following site for more info about the evils of bottled water and to drink filtered tap water...
Please check out this site... Sierra Club

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oyster Reefs

Well, today this subject came up in the lab, I am not quite sure how, but I figured I would talk about them tonight. Oysters in many areas, most notably (at least publicly) in Chesapeake Bay, form large 3-D solid reef structures or bars. They are created by oysters, which settle onto hard subtrates, settle and grow on top of pre-existing oysters, and layer on top of layer growing upwards and outwards. Over thousands of years (which could be destroyed in mere decades), these oysters can create a rather complex habitat. These reefs area often self-maintaining (although with oyster harvest it becomes harder) and can occur subtidally (less than 2 meters) up to 30 meters of water. They are also found most prominently at the mouths of rivers in estuaries (as they require slightly lower salinities than many other marine bivalves).

They are very important for a few reasons. Vitally important to the overall health of the estuary, oysters filter very high volumes of water, and oyster reefs in full capacity can filter volumes of whole bays in hours if not in days. By filtering out phytoplankton, oyster reefs increase water quality and clarity, which in turn, allows other important species, like seagrasses, to grow. However, oyster reefs are also very important in terms as habitat for many species of finfish, other shellfish and crustaceans, especially many commercially and recreationally important species. The reefs serve as predation refuges, nursery habitats and feeding spots.

Despite these importance to the health of the ecosystem, these reefs have been in decline, particularly in the Chesapeake, over the past 100 years. Many causes are pollution, disease, and harvesting. I am also quite certain they were removed as navigation hazards as well. As more is learned about their importance, more work is being done to restore these reefs. To learn more about their importance of oyster reefs and their restoration, go to the Chesapeake Bay Program site.

I know that much of the information about oyster reefs is from the Chesapeake, but they also occur down in Florida, where I have experienced them firsthand. While the area I have seen them was Lostman's River, in the Everglades, is very turbid, we could feel them scraping the bottom of our boat as we were motoring (stupidly, mind you, but I am not allowed to drive, so I have no control about that really) over them. When we get some of our preliminary numbers, I will update about what animals we found at what densities, just to give some comparisons to back up their importance. There is a little grass up there, but the water is still very turbid. This is mostly because water leaving the Everglades often has a lot of sediment. Anyways, just so you all have a good story to leave with, after running over the beds, we messed up the motor (obviously). Now it was no longer peeing, and we could not flush it, so it was soon overheating. This, mind you, is late in the afternoon (4:00-4:30) and we are still an hour and a half from the ranger station when the boat is working properly. However, now we can't run the boat (a 23 foot parker) and we have to tow it with a 17 foot mako, so we cannot get up on plane. This creates problem because behind us is a squall (miles behind us but we cannot go very fast, mind you) and dark is approaching. To top it all off, we have no lights (other than a spotlight flashlight that won't last long) and going back through the Everglades canals during the day is hard enough, but in the dark was even more difficult. Plus, the mako doesn't have enough gas to make it all the way back with a boat in tow. We make it about 2/3 of the way back and now its like 930-10 (not really sure), and we finally run out. Now we need to siphon gas from the parker to put into the mako. Which we did, and the squall luckily did not follow us, we got to dry land by 1130 and it was still a 45 minute ride out of the park to our hotel, where we would have to wake up at 6 am to do it all again the next day.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Well, thanks to my friend Tait I use the Stumble Upon extension for my Mozilla browser. To make a long story short, its an extension that when downloaded, it becomes a button on your browser and it will find sites according to your interests and other people's recommendations. Anyways, I stumbled upon this site talking about Hydropolis, the first real undersea hotel being designed in Dubai. First, I know there is a "undersea hotel" in Key Largo, Fl. However that "hotel" is like a metal box in 20 feet of water with 2 rooms and is thoroughly unimpressive. So this Hydropolis should be something special. Second, for those of you who don't know, Dubai is like the richest country in the world or something. It has a large indoor ski slope (you will have to look this up) apparently the size of a football field. It is building all sorts of hotels and resorts and I am also quite certain it is home to the only 6 star hotel in the world.
Back to Hydropolis, which will have 220 suites 20 meters below the surface. It has a land station at the surface, and then guests are transported via train to the suites below. Also included in this hotel, in the upper floors, is a marine biologist research station (hello Dubai!!!), offices, a restaurant and a cinema. You can read more about it yourself, but I thought this was pretty awesome and worth noting.

Monday, February 06, 2006

White Shark Diving

I was just thinking about that today. That is something that I really want to do eventually; it is now on my list. I mean, I am not the type of guy to go on most shark dives, I don't necessarily agree with dive instructors sitting people on the bottom and pulling out all this food to lure sharks to the area. I would love to see sharks while I am diving, but mostly harmless ones. I stress "see" because if I can see them, they can see me, and know I am not food. I did run into some sort of reef shark when I was alone on a night dive once ( I know, not supposed to do that, but in my defense I had a buddy, we just were not together), and it was more scared of me than anything. I tried to follow it but it went up on the top of the reef and it was low tide, yadda yadda. The point is, its cool so see these things, that's why I dive. However, I would not want to run into a tiger shark or a white while out doing a dive. I would like to see them, however. That is why I want to do white shark cage diving. It would probably scare the crap out of me, but I think it would be worth it, worth it to see one, and know that I am 99% safe. It would be quite the experience. Too bad I think I need to go to South Africa or Mexico to do it. Anyways, I don't know what made me think about it, but I do work with a South African, and I did notice on Cyber Divers there was an article about how the Australian government say shark shields don't work. It would be pretty cool, none-the-less.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

super bowl xl

Not that I am going to really get into it here, you can read my archives about what I think about the teams playing... I will say this... Pittsburg will win this game... And you all may be saying, well duh, everyone else says so, but lets not forget that if you go back and read all my posts, I have been picking the Steelers since the playoffs started... I was the only one who is sane (and not a Steelers fan) who picked Pitt to beat Indy... I had them going tot he Super Bowl since the play-offs started... But anyway, they will win, unless Troy Palumalu aggrevates his ankle injury, he is the equalizer....

Friday, February 03, 2006


I know sometimes, those who know me will agree, I talk a lot of shit. I say outlandish things like "I wonder if sea cow tastes like beef," mostly to get a rise out of people. However, manatees are pretty fascinating creatures. They are one of only a few animals that can eat and digest seagrass (along with sea turtles, urchins and very few fish). They get very big (1000 pounds), flippers with fingernails, a broad, round tail and whiskers. They are also very slow moving. This is the problem. Since they eat seagrass, they are often in shallow waters, where they encounter boaters. In many places in Florida, shallow waters and also certain rather large areas are designated as manatee zones where you cannot wake. However, many boaters ignore these limits (as Tait can attest). It is really a shame, mostly because manatees are cool. You can just be sitting on your dock on a canal or the intercoastal and a manatee will show up. They are not too scared of people and some that live in more populated areas even hang out by the docks.

apparently Florida legislatures are trying to get the manatees removed from the endangered species list. This is unacceptable. Perhaps the population is growing, but 100s still die every year from human and natural causes. Last year alone, almost 400 manatees died, some due to watercraft sustained injuries, some due to a red tide bloom. It was the second highest death toll since records started being kept. What's worse about this whole situation is that their method of tracking the population numbers is via aerial surveys, which are highly variable. In 1992, for instance, an aerial survey counted 1,844 manatees in the state. Last year, an aerial survey counted 3,143. In the years between, aerial survey counts varied by as much as 1,000 from one year to the next.

There are 4 sub-populations in Florida. 2 of the populations appear to be increasing, the northwest and St John's populations, although researchers say those two combined make up only 16% of the total Florida population. The other 2 populations aren't doing as well, the Atlantic population appears to be stable or changing slightly and the southwest population is in decline. With all of this information, how can legislators still want to change the status of the manatee? I just don't understand.

You can help, fortunately. There are numerous manatee organizations that raise awareness. One such organization is the Save the Manatee club which you can donate money, adopt manatees, and it also has links so you can write your congressman. Hopefully we can keep this big creatures around for a while longer.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Coral Bleaching

Many of us know and understand that corals are animals, they grow, feed, metabolize, etc. And they also have a symbiosis with microalgae, known as zooxanthellae. This algae undergoes photosynthesis and its byproducts (sugars, etc) are used by the corals. While there are species of corals without endosymbionts, many species cannot survive without these zooxanthellae. This is problematic because many reefs around the world experience patches of what is known as bleaching. This is when the coral expels the zooxanthellae from its body due to a number of anthropogenic or natural causes. Some events are not very severe and the coral can regains its zooxanthellae population, but some events are so severe that the corals die off and cannot come back.

There are numerous causes for bleaching events, including rising sea temperatures, increased solar irradiance, increases sedimentation, freshwater inputs, etc. Many human induced impacts include overexploitation and disturbance, increased sedimentation, nutrient overloading and global warming. Natural events include those such as ENSO (El Nino Southern oscillation), violent storms, and predation. Whatever the cause, corals bleaching creates major problems. If the event is severe and the corals cannot regrow, it can have devastating impacts on the ecosystem.

Some researchers believe that bleaching is an adaptive measure. If corals can expel the zooxanthellae that can't survive in the new conditions, perhaps they can obtain zooxanthellae that can (since there are multiple species of zooanthellae). Since different zooxanthellae have different tolerances to temperature, light and salinity, corals that expel one type during an event may be colonized by a new type, allowing the symbiosis to continue. While I know there has been work with this in a laboratory setting (although of course I cannot find the paper right now), how it plays out in the real world is another question.

Can we allow coral bleaching to continue in hopes it is just an adaptive measure? No. Major events are occurring every day. A devastating event is happening in Australia right now, off of the Queensland coast. Researchers are saying that the readings they are getting right now are similar to those experienced in 2001-2002 when the last major event took place, bleaching approximately 70% of the Great Barrier Reef. They think that this event can be similar. The article goes on to say that credible predictions for the entire GBR to be wiped out is 30 years, with the most optimistic predictions at 70 years.

It is absolutely incredible that so much information is out there, attributing so much devastation to global warming and yet our government does not seem to care. They are running on the platform that the end is near, the apocalypse is approaching so we might as well use all the resources we can (that was actually Reagan's position, his secretary of the interior stated almost those exact words, and I am quite sure Bush agrees whole heartedly). This can't all fall on the Republicans, afterall, Clinton was the one who failed to sign the Kyoto treaty to try to cut greenhouse gases by the year 2012. It is truly unfortunate that my kids may never be able to dive on a live coral reef and that apparently half the nation at least doesn't care. We can only hope that the more research that is conducted, like the new Census on Marine Life, a massive research initiative with over 70 participating nations, can generate enough data and awareness that people have to pay attention. Otherwise, I am moving to the moon.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shark Fins

I read about this in the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education newsletter recently, and it seemed quite interesting. Apparently law enforcement agencies are using genetic tests to identify fins of the highly protected white sharks in the shark fin trade. In 2003, NOAA confiscated over 1 ton of dried shark fins on its way to Asian markets from an US east coast seafood dealer. One container was labeled "porbeagle" which is a cousin of the white shark, but inside the container another label read "blanco," Spanish for white. NOAA researchers, as well as those from the Guy Harvey Institute at Nova Southeastern University took samples from these fins, ran the samples through DNA analysis and discovered that the fins were indeed from white sharks. For more about this story see the full article.

This is terrible. It is bad enough that they illegally kill thousands of sharks by cutting off their fins and tossing them back into the water (I don't understand why they can't use the whole damn thing), but also the Japanese are developing high powered harpoons to kill endangered humpback whales and fin whales off the coast of Antarctica. This comes after Japan backed out of an international consensus to protect them. And Japan does this under the disguise of "scientific research" when it is really for commercial purposes. They are one of the only countries that does this and they also do not recognize the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

We need to do something as responsible consumers. The problem is what??? If the Japanese did not make such good efficient products, and America was actually good at building things and keeping up with technology, I would say boycott products made in Japan but that is unlikely. A Disney boycott did lead to Disney-Asia stopping the sale of shark fin soup, but that won't work here. We need to urge our representatives to do something about this. At a time when it is vitally important that we protect our resources and our earth, we generate waste, continue to pollute and decimate populations. When will we get smart???

Fuck Comcast...

that is pretty much all that needs to be said, but I will go into greater detail so you can all say it too. Now I called on Saturday to set up my cable account, pretty simple really, all I want is the cheap, basic, basic cable and high speed internet. Thats it. And I want the introductory offer of 19.99 a month for each. Simple enough right? So on Saturday they schedule an appointment for Tuesday (yesterday) between 11 and 2. It is going to be an easy set up too, because the house is already wired, all I need really is for the guy to drop of the digital cable box and the modem and "turn us on." We are talking 10 minutes tops. So I take a half day. And I sit at home. And wait, and wait. 2 comes and goes, no cable guy. 3 oclock comes around and I call them. They tell me oh the driver had a flat tire but he is on his way. Good. So I hang up. And wait. And wait. Its getting later and later, and finally, it is 430. I am thinking theese guys go home at 5 so i better find out where the fuck he is. So I call again. And this time they tell me that hes at another stop, on 27th Lane ( I live on 25 terrace) and he will be right over. So I wait. And wait. Nothing. Now I am really pissed. So I call back and I said listen, there was supposed to be someone here by 2, I have waited at home all day and I want to know exactly where the goddam cable guy is and exactly when he will arrive. A new lady (now the 3rd different person I talked to) says let me find out where he is. She comes back on line and says sir, I am going to be completely honest with you, the guy is not coming. I was like what the hell are you talking about. She gave me some speil about how the person who took my order did not put it in right, and so they did not send a tech out to me because my order was incomplete. She went on to say that the other people I spoke with just didn't want to tell me that. That is the ridiculous part. Apparently it is Comcast company policy to lie to the customers. I don't care that someone screwed up, if they had told me from the beginning or even called to let me know he wasn't going to come, that would have been fine. But to deliberately mislead me, make me waste a full day waiting, is ridiculous. The worst part is all i get is the waiver of the 15 dollar activation fee??? Give me a fucking break. I am going to the payment center tomorrow and I am going to have words until I get the direct line of a suprvisor so I can shew somebody out. Moral of this story, get every customer service reps name that you ever talk to, so when they lie, you can get their asses fired.