Christmas critter countdown: Star coral

Coral may look like a rock but they’re certainly not! Take some time to learn about the vulnerable species here. It’s climate change we have to worry about but the ocean habitat is up against ocean acidification and the first clue is from coral.

Christmas critter countdown

Christmas critter countdown: Christmas tree worm

Admittedly, at this point my kind readers know that I’m a nut over some ocean humor (despite the rolling eyes from loved ones!). So if you’ll indulge me this holiday season I now have a list of twelve ornamental-appropriate organisms. My first one to share is the Christmas tree worm.

Christmas critter countdown: Chrsitams tree worms

The Christmas tree worm, found in tropical coral reefs worldwide, has some amazing spiral plumes (i.e., tentacles) are used for feeding and breathing. The Christmas tree worm prefers to feast on phytoplankton floating in the water nearby. Learn more here.

The Coral Song: “I may look like a rock, but I’m certainly not”

I listened to this three times last night. It’s “The Coral Song”. It’s a fun song. It’ll get caught in your head. I had to share. Maybe we’ll hear each other humming in line at the pharmacy. The Reef-World Foundation gets all the credit for helping the production get the science straight on this catchy tune.

The screenshot below is of my favorite line. What line do you find completely genius … in that “oh, so perfectly simple” way?

coralsong_image

Finned foliage

I wanted to share this image of anthias swimming in the Red Sea to usher in the briskness of autumn! As you know it’s my favorite time to beachcomb, but it’s also my favorite time to be surrounded by the brilliant-colored leaves of trees. The reds, yellows, and oranges are as vibrant as a coral reef

These schooling anthias are interesting because they are born one sex, but then change to another. In fact, all anthias are born female and only change to male if the male in their school dies. Most anthias remain female their entire life. This type of hermaphrodite is known as protogynous (proh-TAH-guh-nus). If it were the other way (beginning their life as male and changing to female) it would be known as protandrous (pro–TAN-dur-us).

RedseaAnthiasThe image is from Free Underwater Images, a new favorite resource. This website “promotes increased awareness of the marine environment by allowing users to download free, high quality underwater photos.  All images are in the public domain and free for any use without prior written permission and without fee or obligation. Images can be used for any non commercial purpose”.

10 tips for a successful beachcombing trip

Pick up that clump! You never know what you'll find.

Pick up that clump! You never know what you’ll find.

It’s my favorite time of year. This is the best time to explore the beach. It’s still sunny and warm, there are frequent storms (you’ll see why that matters later), and there are few people on the beach. For another six weeks along the mid-Atlantic (before it gets too cold), I encourage you to spend some time getting to know your local shoreline. Here are 10 tips for a successful beachcombing trip.

10. What to bring. Here is a list of some items you may want to remember so you’re prepared for any situation.

  • Often the beach is considerably cooler than inland so bring layers. You may want to wear hiking pants and bring a zippered sweatshirt so you’re equipped with lots of pockets for some other items that might be essential.
  • Make sure to have some appropriate soles. Sure it’s our instinct to be barefoot, however if you want to venture out along the jetties or rocks make sure you have some old sneakers or those water shoes with some decent grip (After all, you don’t want to ruin your adventure with a puncture to some sharp object). Also, the water might be a little cooler than you’d prefer and some good foot cover will allow you to wade into a tide pool.
  • Make sure to have a watch.
  • Even during the off-season the sun is shining and is strong enough to give you a burn. Make sure to bring along a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • It’s always a good idea to bring a shovel, grabber sick, or even a metal detector so you can gently investigate inside crevices and below the sand.
  • You are going to want to cherish the moments so find that camera and try to make a neck strap so it’s always handy. You can take pictures of items you find and want to learn about later. You’ll also want to catalog those smiles in the sun.
  • Take along a small (i.e., not heavy) identification book so you can learn more about what you find while on your outing.

9. Be hands free. One more item that you’re going to love me for suggesting is a backpack. This way you can investigate a little bit further from your base and your items are quickly at your disposal.

8. Leave important items behind. Don’t ruin the day by losing a credit card or your phone. If you’re active and in the moment you might lose something and it’s going to be difficult to retrace your steps. I won’t say “I told you so”. On the same note it’s important to leave animals, plants, rocks, and seashells where you find them. If you want to have a little bit of the beach in your home check out these great books by Josie Iselin.

7. When to go. To get the optimum experience for beachcombing you’ll want to check on when low tide is at your beach spot. The best time to go beachcombing is 2-3 hours prior to low tide or an hour or so after (This is why a watch is important, you don’t want to get stuck on  shoal during high tide). Many intertidal animals live under the water in the sand during high tide, but come out to play (and seek out food) during low tide. If you can time it so you get to check out the beach after a big storm you’ll be in for a real treat. The strong wind and wave action of storms will wash up a fossils, bones, seaweed, and lot of other interesting treasures from the ocean floor. Also, keep in mind that dawn and dusk are difficult times to identify beach treasures. Although this is a great time to spot birds as many fish tend to come up to the surface at these times.

6. Where to go. My favorite spot to beachcomb is the Stone Harbor Point in NJ, but it’s not always easy for me to get there these days. I like to remind myself from time to time that I don’t need an ocean to beachcomb. There is a lake and creek in my neighborhood and these spots are a great place to spend the afternoon. After all, these waterways eventually lead to the ocean.  No matter where I decide to spend some time beachcombing I always make sure to note the general water quality.

5. Be careful. This is just a reminder to not tamper with obviously dangerous items. Fish hooks, metal canisters, and needles often wash up on the beach. While I am going to also suggest doing your part and picking up marine debris it’s also a good idea to err on the side of caution and when poking around. Also, some rocks look very steady but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. If you are feeling like having an adventurous day it’s might be a good idea to make sure you have someone else with you. One last thing about being careful,even though the dunes might look like an interesting place to check out – it’s important to know that those grasses are incredibly brittle and can crack easily. It’s also against the law to walk on the dunes. The dunes are an important part of the beach ecosystem as they protect our homes from storm surge.

4. Leave it be. Each rock that you turn over is part of an ecosystem. A rock might be an essential part of an animal’s home as it helps pool water during high tide. Rocks also protect them from predator as well as the sun. It’s important to always remember to not take animals out of their natural setting – especially if you see them in a tide pool. Many animals are naturally attached to rocks for survival and you could be risking their survival.

3. Play. You might not want to go home, but you also might be in the company of some people that just don’t have a very long attention span. Even more frustrating is repeating the phrase, “No, you cannot go in the water today” over and over again. Build a sandcastle. Look to the horizon for dolphins or porpoises. Make a sand angel. Look up to the sky for cloud animals. Check out my ebook for other beachcombing adventures.

2. Bag it and track it. It’s always nice to be prepared to be able to do your part. I prefer to take along a hefty canvas bag that can fit in a backpack so I can tote marine debris back to a garbage can. You might even try to acquire one of these nifty bags with holes for sand to percolate through from the Green Bag Lady. When you head back to the car you can even do some citizen science and log your marine debris on the Marine Debris Tracker.

1. Don’t expect too much. It’s important to remember to relax and respect the area you are exploring. All of the ideas above are simply suggestions and ideas to ensure you get the most out of  a beachcombing adventure. Please don’t hesitate to share your favorite stories, spots, and other ideas for a great day. You can comment below of email me at info@beachchairscientist.com.

What they’re into … with John Bruno (SeaMonster)

It’s time for another installment of the What Marine Conservationists Are Into series and appropriately we’re heading into fall with a professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In case you didn’t know this is a series I have been featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions to some folks I know and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them.

John Bruno is a marine ecologist and Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  His research is focused on marine biodiversity, coral reef ecology and conservation and the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems.  John earned his Ph.D. from Brown University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University in disease ecology.  He is currently working primarily in Belize, the Bahamas, Cuba and the Galapagos Islands.

John is an avid blogger and co-developer of the oceans website SeaMonster (www.theseamonster.net).  For fun, he reads, bikes, surfs and kitesurfs and in his spare time he is developing a blue carbon offsetting company (The BlueCarbon Project) that is restoring mangroves in northern coastal Ecuador. More info: www.johnfbruno.com

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
When I was younger, I’d get up at 5 to work (write papers, lectures, etc).  That rarely happens anymore and I am staying up later and later these days.  We have a screened porch attached to our bedroom that is 15ft off the ground and we spend a lot of time out there at night, listening to owls and coyotes, reading and watching movies late in the night.  I’ve also got a hammock out there, where I do a lot of my writing.  The porch is definitely my favorite room.

Which sitcom character do you relate to?
I don’t even own a TV and don’t know many sitcom characters, but I am reading the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson and can very much relate to both Salander and Blomkvist in their intense focus on and need for justice – although in my case, I want justice for the oceans.  Like Salander, I am also quite introverted although I am not a computer hacker and don’t have a photographic memory.

What is your favorite sundae topping?
Fruit and grape nuts!

What is your favorite pastime?
If I am not working or hanging out with my wife and three daughters, then I am surely either biking, surfing, kitesurfing, swimming or reading.  I basically never sit still and do nothing.  I’m usually in motion, doing something risky.  And I loathe board games and television.

What three things would you take with you to an island?
Funny you should ask, since most of my travel for work is to islands, usually in the Caribbean.  I always pack a knife, a hat and mask. That is all you need in life.

And, with that I hope everyone is off to a great start to the academic year. I have a few more profiles, but if you ‘re interested in sharing or know someone else that should participate please do not hesitate to contact me at info@beachchairscientist.com. Check out everyone that has participated so far this summer. It’s quite the eclectic group of personalities keeping the ocean conservation movement so lively and full of momentum! I love it!

Oh, Christmas tree (worm)! Oh, Christmas tree (worm)!

What are Christmas tree worms and where did they get their name? I’m more than happy to let you know that it would not be a good idea to decorate your house with Spirobranchus giganteus.

The Christmas tree worm got its name because the spiral plumes that radiate from its main body resemble that of our fir and spruce trees that adorn our living rooms in December. These spiral plumes (also viewed as tentacles) are used for feeding and breathing. The Christmas tree worm prefer to feast on phytoplankton floating in the water nearby.

They do not move once they find a spot and nestle into burrows below the coral reefs they call home.

The tentacles sway in the water surrounding the burrow, but if a predator is lurking … the Christmas tree worm will hide completely.

Christmas tree worms live worldwide among warm, tropical reefs and can be orange, yellow, blue, or white. They typically do not exceed  1 1/2 inches in length.

Image (c) marine-bio.org.

10 justifications ocean acidification is a serious concern

Ocean acidification (OA) is the process by which the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). This process creates chemical reactions that reduce 1) seawater pH, 2) carbonate ion concentration, and 3) saturation states of biologically important calcium carbonate minerals (the minerals floating within the water column that many shellfish absorb to create stronger shells).

Here are 10 reasons OA is a serious concern. Keep in mind the science community has just begun to scratch the surface of OA impacts to the marine ecosystem and new findings are always being revealed.

  • OA is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity. Of particular concern are coral reefs which are the habitat of at least a quarter of all marine species.
  • Many marine organisms (e.g., reef building corals, shellfish) that produce calcium carbonate shells or skeletons are adversely affected by the increased absorption of CO2 levels and decreasing pH in seawater. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The effect is similar to osteoporosis, slowing growth and making shells weaker”.
  • Reef building corals, a ‘framework species’, are one species greatly affected by coral bleaching (a result of OA). Coral reefs are being destroyed twice as fast as rainforests. This is significant considering over $6.5B and 63,000 jobs are connected with tourism of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Abnormally low pH levels in the seawater off the West coast of the US may be attributed to “near total failures of developing oysters in both aquaculture facilities and natural ecosystems”.
  • Before people started burning coal and oil, the pH of the ocean was essentially stable for the previous 20 million years. However, science predicts that by 2100 (less than 100 years!) OA will more than double if CO2 emissions continue at their current rate.
  • The ocean is absorbing the CO2 we are spewing into the atmosphere at the rate of, “22 million tons per day“.
  • The last time the world’s oceans acidified quickly (approximately 6.8 trillion tons of carbon entered the atmosphere over a period of 10,000 years) many deep-sea species went extinct. The cause is not known, but the result was a rise in temperature at least 5-9°C.
  • Strategies needed to combat OA are similar to those that are needed to combat global warming. In fact, OA is known as global warming equally evil twin.
  • To help combat OA you should conserve energy at every opportunity. This could include using the most efficient fuels for cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships.
  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “OA has the potential to seriously threaten the future health of the world’s oceans and the significant economic benefits they provide to humankind”.

This illustration depicts how less emissions can combat the effects of ocean acidification. 

Cirque Du Baille (or Circus of the Sea)

Now that my little one is getting to the age where she’s off on fun excursions with daycare (today she went to the National Zoo!), I started having nightmares she might ask her father and I to take her to the circus.  I haven’t been to the circus since I was 6 and am not even certain if they still have them or that I want to take her. I do love the idea of taking her to Cirque Du Soleil to enjoy the music and dancing, though.

Then I started to daydream …  “What if I could take her to a circus of the sea“? So, here is my representation of “Cirque Du Baille” featuring the spinner dolphin as the amazing acrobat, the clownfish as everyone’s favorite (or creepy) jokster, the dumbo octopus as the ideal replacement for the elephant, and once the lionfish figures out a way to get those tentacles through hoops he’ll take down the big top.

Simple coral bleaching teaching

There are some things that we want to stay white, such as snow and Kris Kringle’s beard. Coral reefs are not one of them. Unfortunately, The Nature Conservancy noted that 2011 was the most extensive coral reef bleaching event for the Florida Reef Tract since 2004. Scientists working on the Florida Keys Reef Resilience Program were not surprised due to the very hot summer of 2011.

What is coral bleaching?

As the National Ocean Service (a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) states, “When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.” For more information on the symbiotic relationships going on within a coral reef check out this video!

Image (c) wunderground.org