Search Results for: plants

How many animals and plants live in the ocean?

(Please note: This post does not give an exact answer to the question.)

It is comparable to the amount of stars in the sky. Especially if you think that 95% of the world’s oceans are unexplored.

That is why in 2000 a huge census of what lives in the ocean started. The Census of Marine Life brings together more than 2,000 scientists from 82 countries try to answer the question. Every so often a report card of their progress is unveiled to the public – and the latest one was this month. It is great – they are always finding new wacky stuff.

Currently, there are about 230,000 known marine creatures that have gone through the process of becoming legitimately described as “unique”. Since 2003 the Census of Marine Life has discovered more than 5,000 new living creatures – But, 111 have been processed as new and unique creatures! The scientists are making remarkable progress.

Here is a brief list of some of the new wacky stuff they have found:

  • An octopi that lives in the deep-sea – unusual since lacks an ink sack like other octopi – you don’t need to ink in the dark, right?
  • Sea stars and sea spiders larger than a bread box.
  • A completely blind lobster species with very unique antennae used for feeling.
  • A brand new orange and black stripped shrimp that lives off the coast of Africa.

This is a link to the most recent progress report – 24 pages – great pictures!

http://www.coml.org/pressreleases/highlights08/coml_highlightsReport08-sm.pdf

Do you have another great question? Check out www.beachchairscientist.com and let us know what you always ponder while digging your toes in the sand!

Osprey platforms: Foundations that helped a comeback

For more pictures from the osprey banding trip check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/sets/72157654936373085

For more pictures from the osprey banding trip check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/sets/72157654936373085

Those huge platforms along the causeways are there for a very important reason. Osprey build their nests on them. They’ll also build their nests on any open platform free from predators and near shallow water. But, the man-made platforms have really help to bring back populations of osprey after their sharp decline in numbers due to DDT.  Each year the huge raptors, also known as “fish hawks” because 99.9% of their diet is fish, wait until after the water thaws to build a nest. Since the winter was so long this year along the Mid-Atlantic many of the birds just made their nests in March/April. With an incubation period of just over a month and the young needing just about two months before they take off from the nest it was a perfect time to follow along with Greg Kearns of Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, as he banded juvenile osprey (don’t worry, he has a permit for this kind of thing).

Osprey are banded at a young age to help determine their migration patterns, life expectancy, as well as reasons for mortality. The band that is placed on the young is very light weight and has not hindered their ability to catch food. I am incredibly grateful for his time and dedication to his efforts in conservation and education. Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your knowledge with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association late last month. Here are some more interesting facts learned along the way:

  • As with all birds of prey these birds have very sharp talons. But, the osprey have a reverse talon making it easy for them to grasp their prey with two toes in the front and two from behind.
  • The male usually scopes out the spot for the nest to be built several days before the arrival of the female.
  • Osprey are asynchronous incubators and do not hatch all at once. The female typically lay four eggs but usually one two survive. While they do share food distributed by their mother the oldest one dominates.
  • The hunts for food for the mother and young and before he returns to the nest with food he’ll eat about one-third of the fish. Hunting for fish does burn a lot of calories after all. The mother and young will eat the rest of the fish, but seem to not favor the gut of the fish. The adults generally need about 300 grams of fish per day.
  • There is a 40-50% chance of survival for the young. The average age of an osprey is 8-10 years old. The oldest tracked osprey was found to be 33 years old.
  • Their nests are made of sticks from the surrounding marsh plants, as well as animal hide or even litter such as plastic bags.
  • Young osprey have orange eyes that turn brown as they get older.

If you live near shallow water and want to build a platform there are several plans available here: http://www.osprey-watch.org/learn-about-osprey/build-an-osprey-nest/.

To watch a pair of osprey raising their young during this nesting season from the comfort of your own screen check out the Patuxent River Park’s Osprey Cam here:  http://www.pgparks.com/Things_To_Do/Nature/Patuxent_River_Park.htm.

Maryland moves closer to banning microbeads

Plastic microbeads on a penny. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Plastic microbeads on a penny. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Reported on the Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green  blog, “Consumer products such as toothpaste and cosmetic scrubs containing tiny plastic “microbeads” could be banned from store shelves in Maryland after 2018 under a bill unanimously approved Thursday by the state Senate”. These means that if the bill passes the House, “Maryland will be the second state after Illinois to order a phase-out of the manufacture or sale of consumer products containing the beads”.

What is a microbead? It’s a tiny particle of plastic that never break down. What’s incredibly harmful is that they are being drained into local streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and ocean and affecting our waterways. There are over 50 products on the shelves in the US that contain harmful microbeads! Find a list of products sold in the United States that contain microbeads (i.e., polythene) here.

Here is some alarming information on the microbeads, marine debris, and our ocean trash in general.

  1. A single tube of facial cleanser can contain over 3000,000 microbeads.
  2. More than 450,000 microbeads per square kilometer were found in some parts of Lake Erie.
  3. In the ocean there are approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles.
  4. For every foot of coastline there is approximately five grocery bags filled with plastic, according to estimates in 2010.
  5. Six continents have microfibers washing up on their shores.
  6. Shores near sewage treatment plants have the highest concentration of microfibers washing up.
  7. Nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated by coastal countries in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans.
  8. Each year, 8.8 million tons of plastic goes into the oceans.
  9. The estimate for 2015 is 9.1 million metric tons.
  10. On average, Americans use 220 pounds of plastic per year.
  11. 17% of all marine animals impacted by manmade debris are threatened or near threatened.
  12. Trash will likely increase tenfold over the next decade.

Jellyfish protein help create glow-in-the-dark ice cream

Looks like seaweed isn’t the only ocean organism used to make ice cream a special treat these days, particularly if its glow-in-the-dark ice cream. Charlie Francis, British ice cream creator, partnered with a Chinese scientist interested in understanding the nuances of jellyfish proteins, to synthesize the fluorescent jellyfish protein specifically for use as part of an ice cream flavor. Francis and his partner recreated the luminescent protein to construct a specialized calcium-activated protein that only glows in the dark once you lick it. And, the more you lick it the more it glows. No jellyfish were harmed in the making of this ice cream flavor. Is it safe to taste? Francis tasted it and said “I tried some and I don’t seem to be glowing anywhere” How much is a scoop? $220. Would you try it?

la-dd-glow-in-the-dark-jellyfish-ice-cream-201-002

Check out the ‘Lick Me, I’m Delicious’ Facebook page to learn more about all of Francis’ creations here: https://www.facebook.com/lickmeimdelicious

Under normal, non-dairy related circumstances, jellyfish protein glow when the photoprotein aequorin interacts with seawater to produce a light (i.e., green florescent protein or GFP). Why do animals and plants glow in the dark? Find out here.

gfp2_conncolldotedu

GFP was first described in 1955.

Earth Day, Every Day

I tend to be a little quiet and not post often in April. With Earth Day as a central theme for so many organizations this month, what more can I offer? Well, I can share 50 simple ways to make Earth Day, Every Day! These small actions will have you thinking more about how we’re affecting our oceans and local waterways and get you thinking about the animals and plants that live in marine ecosystems. Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have so I can be the Beach Chair Scientist and “bring a simplified perspective to your beachcombing inquiries”. Have a lovely weekend!

EarthDayEveryDay_BCS

For more ways to live (and die) “green” check out http://beachchairscientist.com/2012/04/15/100-ways-to-live-and-die-green/

A Scientist’s Inspiration

Ryan K Morris/National Science & Technology Medals Foundation.

Ryan K Morris/National Science & Technology Medals Foundation.

For Dr. Penny Chisholm, a single look into the microscope as an undergraduate student set off a chain of events that led to a lifetime of work, important new research changing our understanding of the oceans and, just recently, an honor from President Obama at the White House.

The Lee and Gerldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Chisholm recently shared her thoughts with Beach Chair Scientist on her recent National Medal of Science Award and her research work. She also discusses her work as children’s book author, even sharing her cure for writer’s block.

BCS: You described your recent National Medal of Science Award as a high point of your career and a thrill – something you probably couldn’t have imagined when you were an undergraduate. What first sparked your interest in microbial oceanography?
CHISHOLM: I first viewed phytoplankton under a microscope as an undergraduate at Skidmore College.  I found them beautiful and fascinating.  After a few detours, my studies in graduate school focused on a single species of phytoplankton called Euglena, which is one of the “lab rats” among the phytoplankton. I used it to begin to understand (literally) how these cells get through their day.  But I soon realized that the oceans held enormous challenges and studying them would broaden my horizons. So I sought a post-doc at Scripps Oceanographic Institution to where I studied phytoplankton in the wild.

BCS: After receiving word of your award, you told the MIT newspaper that the honor was particularly gratifying because Phytoplankton had been under-noticed despite being the base of the ocean’s foodweb. That said, what has the medal meant to you in terms of the exposure both for the marine microbiology field and for your research?
CHISHOLM: The Medal came as a complete surprise.  It is not something that is common in my field as it is relatively small compared to some others that are highly represented among the Medalists.  I feel that I accepted the award on behalf of the many oceanographers who have pushed our field forward in leaps and bounds over the past decade.  In addition, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has generously funded Marine Microbiology for the past 8 years, which has made a tremendous difference in what we have been able to discover.

BCS: For those of us who aren’t in the field, what should we know about this microorganism and why is it so important in helping us get a better understanding of our planet?
CHISHOLM: Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that form the base of the food chain in lakes and oceans. Through photosynthesis- in which they use the sun’s energy to build organic carbon (living matter) from carbon dioxide gas drawn from the air –  they produce the food for all of the other organisms in the ecosystem, from small zooplankton on up to fish. They draw as much CO2 out of the atmosphere each year, and produce as much oxygen, as all the plants on land.  As such they play an important role in balancing the global carbon cycle, which in turn has an influence on Earth’s climate.

My research for the past 25 years has been on a single species of phytoplankton called Prochlorococcus. It is the smallest and most abundant photosynthetic cell on Earth, and is responsible for a sizable fraction of photosynthesis in the oceans.

BCS: Were there any particular people – in or out of science — who helped and encouraged your interest in science at an early age? How so? What’s your message to young people considering getting into the field today?
CHISHOLM: My interest in science grew slowly as I went through school.  I think the most significant step was when my undergraduate advisor at Skidmore College mentioned to me that I could get a PhD if I wanted to. It had never occurred to me.  I loved studying, so that sounded a lot better than getting a job after I graduated.  I was also drawn to science as a “way of knowing”.  I remember being impressed by the idea that you could make measurements and do experiments, and write the results up in a publication and people would believe you.  I think I found appealing the idea of science as a platform for being heard.  Perhaps growing up in the ’50s- when women’s voices did not carry much weight – influenced me in that regard.

BCS: You’re also the author of two children’s books. What if any similarities exist in your work as an author and as a scientist?
CHISHOLM: Working on the children’s books has helped me learn how to boil concepts down to their very essence.  The truth is that we made these books with the hope that not only children, but parents and teachers would learn from them.  The books, which are narrated by the Sun, cover some very fundamental concepts about life on Earth and our dependency on plants and photosynthesis,  that most people do not understand.  I believe that if we all share this understanding, along with a sense of awe about life on our planet, we will have more respect for all of life on Earth and our dependency on it.

BCS: What’s next for you as a writer?
CHISHOLM: I have a few things on my plate.  The most immediate is third children’s book with Molly Bang, called “Buried Sunlight”.  It is about fossil fuels, how they were made over the history of the Earth, and how burning them in a few hundred years time is changing the planet.

BCS: Do scientists get writers block, too – if so, how do you tackle it?
CHISHOLM: Of course!  What I do is go for a walk.  That usually removes the block, and, more importantly, opens new channels.

To learn more about Dr. Chisholm’s research, visit http://chisholmlab.mit.edu, and see her children’s books, Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring Earth to Life and Living Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas.

PBTs leach from our junk, build up in blubber of marine mammals

bioaccumulation_ecokids.caIt’s a harsh reality, but even our choice of phone case or mattress may not be an easy one if we’re concerned with how we affect our environment. In this 5th installment of “We affect what goes in our watershed” (see posts on fertilizers, marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals), it’s all about PBTs (persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic) chemicals and how they are a silent threat to many marine mammals, and other top predators in the sea. These toxic threats get processed into their blubber and vital organs by way of bioaccumulation (see image). Susan Shaw, Director of Marine Environmental Research Institute, recently published that the bioaccumluation of North Atlantic harbor seals and noted that “at very high exposures PBTs can impair a mammal’s immune system, making it less capable of fighting off deadly diseases”.

What are the sources of these toxins?

  • Mattresses, upholstery foam, and the plastic casings for electronics
  • From the air or washed down the drain from foam, plastic, or fabric slough off our beds, couches, curtains, and televisions
  • Leaked from manufacturing plants, runoff from cropland, or leach out of landfills.

Positive news is that manufacturers and importers agreed in 2010 to a phase-out of materials using these substances in 2010, declaring that sales will completely be irradiated at the end of 2013. In the meantime, here’s a list from the Environmental Working Group on how to reduce the exposure of the chemicals in your home, also I found a list of PBTfree products for home construction and cars from INFORM  that .

I guess the question is now, what are some things that we can do to remind our family, friends, and  neighbors that what we put in our drains and local waterway matters to the entire ocean ecosystem?

Did you know what we add to our garden affects the ocean?

It’s officially day 4 of the “We affect what goes in our watershed” week (see posts on marine debris, oil, and pharmaceuticals). This time it’s all about fertilizers. Researchers whom published in the February 2011 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters pointed out the human use of phosphorous, primarily in the industrialized world, is causing the widespread eutrophication of fresh surface water. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never noticed that I dump phosphorus down any drains or waterways. But, did you know that phosphorous and other harmful nutrients are in the fertilizers we use to keep lawns fresh and sprightly each spring (right around the corner!)? While these nutrients may nourish our gardens they also cause the fast growth of algae (i.e., algal blooms). The algae then feed bacteria, which deplete the waterways of oxygen ensuring that many animals and plants do not survive. Also, the fast growth of the algae will block out essential light needed for photosynthesis. This epidemic of eutrophication can be a very costly and damaging to our rivers, streams, lakes, and even ocean. Below is an image from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (a division of NOAA) comparing places that have a high (right) and low (left) frequency of eutrophication.
healthy-eutro-diagram_coastalscience.noaa.gov
Want a way to ensure you don’t add to the eutrophication? I like the green manure method from Down to Earth for my garden, but McGreary Organics has a good one for lawns as well. I think I’ll be depressing just one more day and ask once again, besides fertilizers, marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

What’s in your medicine cabinet affects aquatic life

Yup, that’s right – what is in your medicine cabinet (e.g., anxiety medication, birth control) affects not only us, but animals in streams, lakes, and even the ocean. As the President’s Cancer Panel noted in a 2010 report, “Pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown”. It might not seem like the most obvious connection. However, as the National Capital Poison Center points out there are many different ways our medications mutate. Here are just a few of the ways drugs enter the water supply:

  1. Drugs that are applied to the skin are washed down the drain.
  2. Drugs can be eliminated through our waste and are then flushed down the toilet (even more direct when it’s from a pet and it’s left on the side of the road).
  3. Healthcare facilities (e.g., mental, dental) that are not legally required to discard drugs as hazardous materials.
  4. There may be ‘straight-piping’ (direct release of untreated sewage into waterways) or overflow of stormwater that bypasses treatment facilities.

Why this matters is incredibly frightening and here are some examples of why:

  1. Anxious Perch: Researchers at the Umeå University in Sweden found that perch exposed to an anxiety medication, Oxazepam, departed from their normal behaviors of hunting in schools by becoming loners and more brave by hunting on their own. They also noticed that the fish seemed to eat more, therefore disturbing the balance of their habitat. (February 2013)
  2. Suicidal Shrimp: Researchers are the University of Portmouth in the U.K. found that through pharmaceutical waste runoff shrimp had been exposed to antidepressants and it was causing an unusual amount of them to die off. (February 2012)
  3. Autistic Fathead Minnows: Researchers from the Idaho State University discovered “psychoactive medications in water affect the gene expression profiles of fathead minnows in a way that mimics the gene expression patterns associated with autism“. (June 2012)
  4. Fish Tissue Fiasco: Researchers from Baylor University studied fish tissue for human drugs and found drugs used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder, and depression.  (May 2009)
  5. Infertile and Hermaphroditic Fish: Mother Nature News wrote how birth control pills caused male fish to be less fertile and increased the number of hermaphroditic fish. (September 2009)
  6. and, finally – Did you know, according to the Associated Press, that drinking water of at least 51 million Americans carries low concentrations of many familiar drugs? (2008)
Don’t worry too much though. You’d have to eat tons of the fish affected by the drugs for it to amount to even one pill. But, if you are concerned about how to keep your waterway clean from pharmaceuticals it’s a good idea to never buy the giant bottle of pills (they’ll surely expire before you’ll use them and then you’ll have to toss it), return old drugs to your pharmacy because many often have take-back programs (i.e., don’t flush them down the toilet), ask your doctor for samples before you commit to a prescription that might not work, and clean up pet waste.
From National Geographic Magazine

From National Geographic Magazine

Have you heard of any other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

10 brief facts on bioluminescence

We all get excited thinking about bioluminescence in nature. Ironically, that excitement is only one of the reasons animals glow like an elf in Middle Earth. Here are some ‘basics on bioluminescence’ you can share with your friends and family the next time you all ogle a firefly and wonder ‘why?’.