Skip to content

Occupy Movement Hits the Marine Ecosystem

November 7, 2011

It seems as though the “Occupy” movement has caught on in all Earth bound lifeforms… 


Sea Notes: Great White – Back to the Wild

October 25, 2011

Sea Notes: Great White: Back to the Wild.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is releasing their young great white shark back into the ocean today after he was kept for 55 days in their Open Sea exhibit. He will be tagged with a tracking device that will also record depth and water temperature, which after 180 days will pop off, float to the surface and transmit the data back to MBARI via satellite.

The decision to release the shark was based on concerns for the shark’s health. Because, really, wouldn’t you too feel sick and go a bit crazy if you were trapped in a tank?

Steve Jobs Saving Sea Turtles? – A Wallace J Nichols Article

October 12, 2011

SImply put, the innately useful and elegant tools Apple creates make it easier for thousands of sea turtle conservationists around the world to work better at what we love.

At Apple and in the world, the legacy of Steve Jobs is vast, complex and — even though he is gone — still unfolding. May it unfold forever.

That legacy, of course, includes helping to save millions of sea turtles and inspiring the modern ocean revolution with Apple products, the tools we love so much, the tools that flowed from the mind and the heart of one man, to the sea. Thank you, Steve.

Read Nichols’ full article on HuffPo!

Shrimp: The Disgusting Truth

September 23, 2011

Sorry for the lack of posts recently guys, but school has got me going crazy at the moment.

What have I always said? DO NOT EAT SHRIMP. I feel though that more people would listen if they were told not to eat shrimp by their television or by some video. So here you go. Learn about the trouble with farmed shrimp! (Although our oceans are not directly harmed by farming shrimp, it does have its negative impacts on the planet we call home. And also on your health. So watch out!)

New Technology Tracks Algal Toxins

September 15, 2011

Written by Chris Dudenhoeffer, University of California: Santa Cruz Graduate ’10

Original publish date: June 2010.

It’s a crisp and cool morning on the municipal pier in Santa Cruz, California. Monterey Bay is windless and calm, looking more like a bathtub than a vast ocean. Beyond the paint-chipped railing, the water is a murky green. Sunlight penetrates just a few feet through the algae­—the tiny marine plants that motivate my visit today.

Jenny Lane, a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, greets me at the end of the wharf. She dons a pair of matching waterproof pants and jacket, and removes two buckets from the back of her trunk. The large white buckets are filled to the brim with clear containers and oddly shaped instruments. We start by collecting and labeling a few samples of water from below the railing. Then, we head to a set of unassuming white stairs halfway down the pier.

A simple wooden platform perches among the pier’s pilings, a few feet above the water. Ropes hang from its railing. Lane begins pulling up the ropes, which are covered by thick, slimy brown algae. Here among the algae is the treasure of this trip. Dangling from brightly colored embroidery hoops are small “teabags” of mesh and resin. These simple white pouches are the latest, cutting-edge tools to track and predict dangerous toxic outbreaks created by tiny ocean organisms.

The algae that produce these dangerous toxins resemble clear needles with dark banding along their length. They’re visible only through a microscope. Though small in size, a few species of algae in the genus Pseudo-nitzschia release the potent neurotoxin, called domoic acid.  The algae may produce domoic acid, when they can’t extract their usual diet of nutrients from the seawater.

In large algal blooms, domoic acid can build up to dangerous levels in coastal waters. It accumulates in shellfish like mussels, which filter water for food.  Eating toxin-saturated mussels can be deadly for both humans and marine organisms. The toxin crosses the blood-brain barrier and attacks the nervous system, deteriorating nerve endings. Symptoms range from vomiting to seizures and short-term memory loss—and even death in the worst cases.

Domoic acid outbreaks can have dramatic effects on local ecosystems. Sea lions, coastal seabirds, and humans can become sick or die from ingesting domoic acid.  Many endangered species, already at low population levels, face threats from harmful algal blooms. In California, the iconic sea otter is a common victim of domoic acid poisoning. Other mammals, such as blue whales and manatees, are prone to poisoning as well.

Harmful algal blooms also can drastically affect local economies. High domoic acid concentrations in the water can force entire fisheries to close, crippling businesses and putting people out of work.  For many coastal communities that depend on fishing, the blooms can spell disaster.

The study of harmful algal blooms is a fledgling field. In 1987 a heavy outbreak of domoic acid in Prince Edward Island, Canada, rattled a community by killing three people and forcing 100 more to the hospital.  Since then more outbreaks have occurred as ocean waters warm, prompting many scientists to examine more closely how and when harmful blooms arise.

Collecting mussels and grinding up their tissue is the most widely used technique to detect and predict marine toxins. Developed by the state, the sentinel mussel watch program uses living mussels to monitor domoic acid levels. However, mussels have several drawbacks. “Using mussels has been described as difficult, expensive, problematic, time consuming, and technically demanding,” says UCSC ocean scientist Raphael Kudela. “It’s not the ideal tool for monitoring algal blooms.”

Kudela and Lane set out to find a simpler way to detect domoic acid in the bay’s waters.  They adapted a new technology, called SPATT.

Short for passive solid phase absorption toxin tracking, SPATT devices look like little resin-filled mesh bags. Filling the fist-sized nylon bags are specialized resin beads, designed to selectively absorb domoic acid from the ocean. Much like steeping a teabag in water, the bags sit in the ocean for a week, soaking up any toxins that drift by.

Conceived and developed 10 years ago in New Zealand, SPATT was originally designed to detect “fat-loving” toxins, which are absorbed and stored in animal fat. Detecting domoic acid, a “water-loving” toxin, was never in SPATT’s design, since such toxins dissolve readily in water. “No one has tried this in the U.S. Everyone we talked to told us it wouldn’t work, but it works beautifully,” says Kudela, chuckling.

Thus far Kudela and Lane’s research reveals that using SPATT has several advantages over using mussels to monitor blooms.  SPATT is simple and cheap, requiring little time or energy to use.  “It’s actually the same price or cheaper than using mussels.  Mussels seem easy and cheap, but SPATT is actually even easier to use. We’re pretty excited about that,” says Kudela. The team recently published in Sea Grant California, with a forthcoming paper in the journal, Limnology and Oceanography: Methods.

SPATT can detect and track toxin levels better than mussels, picking up even tiny levels of the toxin before mussels do. “With this one little bag we can pick up a whole bunch of different toxins, and at levels we normally can’t detect,” says Kudela.  In the 17 months of SPATT’s deployment [as of May 2010], it registered the toxin 3 -7 weeks before the mussels, and 7-8 weeks prior to shellfish toxicity, on average.

Even though SPATT shows clear advantages over the current mussel watch program, the researchers make it clear that SPATT won’t replace mussels. “No one eats SPATT,” Lane says. “If what you care about is shellfish, because you’re eating shellfish, you probably should monitor shellfish.”

To supersede mussels, SPATT would need more scientific validation. Instead, the researchers hope SPATT will provide an early warning system for harmful blooms, giving communities and wildlife agencies valuable time to react as they monitor mussels as well.

Kudela and Lane are now focusing their efforts on expanding SPATT to more piers in and beyond Monterey Bay, and broadening its applications in the field.  “We’re talking with researchers about putting SPATT on the backs of sea lions so we can see where they are getting the toxins. It’s super flexible, much more so than traditional methods,” says Kudela.

Ultimately, Kudela hopes, the technique will reveal algal toxin outbreaks that could grow more frequent as the climate—and the oceans—get warmer. Ideal conditions for larger and longer lasting blooms of harmful algae will keep marine biologists on their toes.


Thanks, Chris for letting me use this!

Misguided Decision on Behalf of Shell Oil Company Puts Arctic Ocean at Grave Risk – Frances Beinecke, NRDC

August 6, 2011

Follow the link for Beneicke’s full blog post: Misguided Decision on Behalf of Shell Oil Company Puts Arctic Ocean at Grave Risk | Frances Beinecke’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

Haven’t we learned from past mistakes (B.P. Oil Spill)? Shell Oil is putting the whole ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean at risk by continuing with plans to begin offshore oil drilling into action in this harsh climate. Dealing with a potential spill up North would be chaotic—oil could be trapped in the ice, and it could prove difficult in extreme conditions to get sufficient help (equipment, ships, and personnel) to a spill to clean things up in a remote area. The nearest U.S. Coast Guard base is 1,000 miles away, with only one operating ice-breaking ship. Will the same technology used in offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico withstand the freezing temperatures of the arctic? Does anyone even know how to clean up oil trapped by ice?

Nobody even knows what sorts of damage oil would cause in the marine ecosystem of the Arctic, which due to remoteness and severe conditions has been scarcely explored.

I served on the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, and during my tenure, I heard federal officials testify that they lacked the money, staff, and expertise to ensure offshore oil rigs were following the rules. And I heard oil executives admit that the industry lacked a rigorous safety culture and best practices for operating in the offshore environment. -Frances Beinecke

It would be absurd and highly reckless should Shell Oil follow through with its plans to operate an offshore oil facility without confidence in their own offshore operations, and with little knowledge of the Arctic environment they plan to operate in.

A Quote on the State of the World’s Oceans

June 24, 2011

“There are things we have to worry about like ocean acidification, but there are other problems too like piles of marine debris thousands of feet deep that are smothering animals we haven’t even discovered yet. That’s the state of the oceans.” a quote from my supervisor at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Chris Pincetich.

%d bloggers like this: