Hope Spots

Twelve percent of the world’s land is under some form of governmental protection, such as reserves and national parks. The ocean makes up seventy percent of the earth’s surface. Of that seventy percent, less than five percent of the ocean is protected in any way.

That’s where Mission Blue comes in.

Mission Blue is an organization created by the oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Their mission is to create Hope Spots around the world, and their goal is to more than double the percentage of protected waters.

Hope Spots are areas of the ocean that are important to its health. These areas are special because they may harbor unique or delicate ecosystems and habitats, such as coral reefs or gulfs. Hope Spots can also be sanctuaries for endangered species or species that are only found in that area. They can also provide services to the ocean that are vital to marine life, such mating grounds and nurseries.

Hope Spots can also be historical to the community, or they may hold spiritual or cultural importance. They can be areas that could potentially help curb the effects of climate change. All in all, they are important areas not only to the ocean and its inhabitants, but to humans as well.

The best part about Hope Spots is that YOU can nominate them. On the Mission Blue website, you can nominate a local area as a Hope Spot.

Let’s say, for example, that I nominate the Chesapeake Bay as a Hope Spot. Using various forms of media, Mission Blue would increase the visibility of the bay and its importance. Mission Blue would help connect me with potential partners for the project and help set up expeditions to prove the bay’s importance to the community. Mission Blue would also help advocate for legal protection of the Chesapeake Bay, which in this case would be advocating to at least Maryland and Virginia state governments.

By allowing people to nominate their own Hope Spots, they essentially help to give people hope and to empower communities. People are more likely to fight to protect something if you give them the power to do so.

But why should we care?

“Health for the oceans means health for us.” –Sylvia Earle

Humans owe so much to the ocean, whether we live on the coast or high up in the mountains, hundreds of miles away. Many of us consume fish, mollusks, seaweed, and crustaceans that are harvested from the ocean. Not to mention what goes into some of the food products for our pets and livestock.

Not only does the ocean provide us with food, but it plays a part in our climates and the weather. The ocean currents of the world affect the climate as they redistribute heat from the equator to the poles.

Then there’s the air we breathe. The algae and phytoplankton in the ocean produce more than half of the world’s oxygen, more even than the Amazon Rainforest!

No matter where you live, the ocean impacts your life on a daily basis. Therefore, we need to care for the ocean like we care for ourselves and you can do that any way you feel comfortable doing.

If you can donate to special organizations like Mission Blue or World Wildlife Fund—fantastic! If you can volunteer at aquariums and other aquatic groups or participate in citizen science such as using the NeMO-net video game to help researchers identify and protect coral, that’s wonderful. If you can find ways to decrease your carbon footprint and/or plastic use, that would be amazing. If all you can do is talk about these things to your friends and family and take these topics to social media, that’s beautiful too!

It’s time to bring back hope one step at a time!

Sources and links:
https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-percentage-of-the-world-s-ocean-area-is-protected.html
https://mission-blue.org/hope-spots-faqs/ ⇐more info on Hope Spots
https://mission-blue.org/act-now/ ⇐things you can do to help the ocean. Remember, these are suggestions!

Mola mola

A small sunfish (Mola mola) basks at the surface on a summer’s day. Photo taken by Alex Mustard, find more at www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyses
Order: Tetraodoniformes
Family: Molidae
Genus: Mola
Species: Mola mola

A common rule in evolution is: the strongest, most fit species are the ones to survive. Typically, a species has more than one adaptation that allows it to survive long enough to reproduce. Adaptations can be variations of speed, camouflage, strength, armaments, or some combination of those features..

The Mola mola is the exception to that rule.

The ocean sunfish, Mola mola, is the world’s heaviest bony fish, weighing in at 5,000 pounds. This makes the ocean sunfish 10 times smaller than the whale shark, which is the largest cartilaginous fish.

The Mola mola looks as if some god got bored and stopped after making half a fish. Its large bulbous head looks like it belongs to a fish much bigger than it is, especially with the lack of a caudal (tail) fin. Even looking incomplete, the sunfish is 14 feet from the bottom of its anal fin to the top of its dorsal fin, and it is about 10 feet from head to end.

Mola is the Latin term meaning “millstone,” referencing the creature’s disc-like shape. Humans are not always clever with their naming schemes, though you can count on us being obvious.

Without a functioning caudal fin, the Mola mola awkwardly swims by waggling its dorsal and anal fins. It does not swim very fast, making it easy prey for sharks, killer whales, and sea lions. With their thick, stretchy skin and their typical diet of jellyfish, ocean sunfish may not be a worthy meal for their predators.

Ocean sunfish are also preyed upon by parasites that live in and on their bodies. While an open water fish, they have been spotted near reefs while attempting to remove parasites. Reefs often contain organisms that feed on the parasites found on bigger fish and turtles. Mola molas will also swim flat on the surface of the water to allow birds to pick some of the parasites off.

Jellyfish don’t provide a lot of nutrition, but sunfish eat a lot of them, along with algae, squids, and some crustaceans. Ocean sunfish don’t chew. Instead, they have an infused tooth-plate on the top and bottom parts of its mouth. When they suck jellyfish into their mouths, the action against the plates turns the jellyfish into a gelatinous material that’s easier to consume. Yum!

Ocean sunfish are a slow-moving, easy target for predators to catch. So, how is it still around? How does it populate almost every ocean? A single female Mola mola can release 100 million eggs into the open water each year. Therefore, if 100 females reproduce in a given year, that’s still about 10 billion eggs.

If only those eggs were cash, am I right?

Despite how many eggs they produce, their global populations are on a decline. They get caught in gill nets that trail behind fishing boats; the nets cause them injury and can even suffocate them. Sunfish also fill their stomachs with indigestible plastic bags, which look like jellyfish floating in the water, and the plastic eventually causes them to starve to death.

You can help Mola mola by picking up trash off the beach when you can or when you’re out in public anywhere. Even if you don’t live right next to the water, those discarded plastic bags you see can still make it to the ocean by way of wind. As for the gill nets, try supporting fisherman and fishing companies that have been reported to fish sustainably. Typically, there is a label of some kind on fish products that have been harvested or caught sustainably.

Please do what you can; every little bit helps these goofy-looking fish!

Sources and links:
Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas 4th edition by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach
Ocean The Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/ocean-sunfish/
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/o/ocean-sunfish/
https://oceansunfish.org/species-and-distribution/ ⇐has more info on sunfish and research relating to them.

Blue Glaucus

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mullusca
Class: Gastropoda
Order: Nudibranchia
Family: Glaucidae
Genus: Glaucus
Species: Glaucus atlanticus

The other day, I got a strange text from my dad talking about an article that he found on the Internet describing a blue dragon that had washed up in Texas. He seemed really excited to show me the article because he thought I could blog about it. Well, “blue dragon” didn’t ring any bells, and I thought that it might have been an oarfish, which is dragon-esque. Instead, what I found is a nudibranch, most commonly known as a sea slug.

Glaucus atlanticus goes by many common names: blue glaucus, blue dragon, sea swallow, and blue sea slug, to name a few. No, it does not look like any slug you might have seen or land.

The creature has what looks like a head and a tail. Along its body are three pairs of fan-like appendages that look like wings. The blue sea slug can grow up to 1.2 inches (3cm) in length, which would make it the smallest dragon in the Guinness World Record book. However, it is not the smallest sea slug!

Most sea slugs live on the seafloor. They can live on coral, or the sandy substrate, or even rocky surfaces. Glaucus atlanticus isn’t like its cousins, though. Instead, they are a pelagic sea slug, meaning they live in the open water column. They have been sighted more often up towards the ocean’s surface.

The blue sea slug floats in the water column by storing an air bubble in its body, acting like an air bladder in fish. If it hangs out near the surface, how does it hide from sea birds?

Glaucus atlanticus has a special coloration that allows it to blend into its surroundings called countershading. The blue sea slug floats on its backside, showing the bright blue underbelly toward the sky. The blue helps it blend into the waves and makes it hard for sea birds to see the creature. On the other side, it is a grayish color that blends in with the surface water from below, making it nearly invisible to its underwater predators.

Countershading isn’t the only defense it has against predators. In fact, like most sea slugs, this is a creature you don’t want to touch—no matter how pretty it looks!

One of the things blue dragons consume is the Portuguese man o’ war, a type of hydrozoan known to give nasty stings to beach-goers. The Portuguese man o’ war has long tentacles, almost 30 feet long, which are full of stinging cells.

When the blue dragon consumes the Portuguese man o’ war it stores the hydrozoan’s stinging cells in those fan-like appendages. When a diver or predator gets too close, the blue dragon will brush up against the perceived threat and sting them with the stinging cells. It’s been reported that a sting from a Glaucus atlanticus hurts more than a sting from a Portuguese man o’ war—so watch out for these critters when swimming! They’re found in the warm waters of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans.

If anyone has any suggestions or requests, like this one, let me know! I want to write about what interests you.

Sources and links:
Reef Creature Identification: Florida, Caibbean, Bahamas 3rd edition by Paul Humann, Ned Deloach, and Les Wilk
https://oceana.org/marine-life/corals-and-other-invertebrates/blue-glaucus
https://scubadiverlife.com/marine-species-glaucus-atlanticus/ ⇐has dive-related news articles as well

Sylvia Earle

“Everyone should be literate about the ocean. No child should be left dry!”
–Dr. Sylvia Earle

Today, I want to introduce you to “Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle.

In 1935, Sylvia Earle was born in New Jersey, United States. At the age of 13, she and her family moved to Clearwater, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Being so close to the ocean, Sylvia heard her life’s calling and soon began learning all she could about the ocean and its creatures.

Sylvia worked her way through college, laboring in college labs to help pay for her schooling. At the University of Florida, she studied oceanography and biology. She went on to study at Duke University, earning her master’s degree and eventually her PhD in phycology (the study of algae) and she has made it one of her life’s projects to catalogue all plant-life in the Gulf of Mexico.

But she didn’t stop there.

She has worked aboard more than 50 oceanic expeditions and clocked more than 7,000 hours underwater—that’s more than 291 days. In 1970, she led an all-female expedition called Tektite II, Mission 6. Sylvia and four women dived 50 feet below the surface of the ocean and lived underwater in a small structure for two weeks. When they resurfaced, Sylvia Earle became a celebrity outside of the science community, and everyone wanted her as a speaker. Since then, she has used her fame and her voice to be a leading advocate for the ocean.

In 1979, Sylvia Earle set a new record off the island of Oahu for deep sea diving. In a submersible, she traveled down to a depth of 1,250 feet. While using a special pressurized suit, she walked along the ocean floor untethered for two and a half hours. As she explored these previously unknown depths, her only connection to the vessel was a communication line; nothing connected her to the world above. Her record still stands today.

Sylvia Earle started two engineering companies, Deep Sea Engineering and Deep Sea Technologies, which design undersea vehicles to help scientists explore the deep reaches of the ocean. She served as the first female Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is also the founder of Mission Blue, an organization that is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

Mission Blue’s mission is to help establish “Hope Spots” around the world. Hope Spots are areas that are deemed vital to the health of the ocean by providing essential services, areas like coral reefs and seagrass beds. Mission Blue sends out researchers to explore new areas and to gather data that proves the locations’ importance to the ocean, and thereby to us. With the data, Mission Blue tries to convince governments to establish these Hope Spots, or marine protected areas.

Dr. Sylvia Earle is truly an inspiration, a woman I strive to become. I highly recommend looking into her life’s story, at least her career. She has published some books over the years that I would love to read, including her 1979 deep sea adventure! She’s also one of the speakers in the videos on NeMO-Net, the coral-identifying game created by NASA.
Sources:
https://achievement.org/achiever/sylvia-earle/ ⇐very in-depth article into her life and research
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/real-world-geography-sylvia-earle/
https://www.ted.com/speakers/sylvia_earle ⇐if you want to see her TED speech
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sylvia-Earle
https://mission-blue.org/ ⇐if you want to check out Mission Blue and Hope Spots

NeMO-Net

Everybody likes to play games, especially video games. Whether it’s a high-resolution, top-notch game with amazing graphics or a simple game of solitaire on your computer, everybody plays games. Even my mom plays Borderlands by GearBox and 2kGames, my dad plays card games on his computer between grading his students’ assignments, and my half-blind aunt plays mahjong on her Kindle.

Everybody likes to play games, and NASA decided to take advantage of that.

One of the difficulties in studying coral reefs is the limitations we have as humans. It’s best to study them in person, but because reefs are underwater, we need tanks to breathe artificial air so we don’t drown while we collect data. We also can’t spend the whole day diving without dying.

Reefs also are pretty spread out and aren’t always close to the shore, so it takes time to travel to all of them and collect data. Funding is an issue because boats and fuel cost money, along with the standard dive equipment, air for the tanks, and the equipment for research.

We also don’t know where all the reefs are in the ocean. In fact, we have mapped out more of the surface of the moon than we have our own oceans—so, who knows where all the coral are!

Speaking of the moon, NASA decided to help coral researchers. They took the same equipment they use to look at stars and pointed them toward our oceans. We can’t use standard camera lenses to photograph reefs from above because of a special law called Snell’s law or the law of refraction.

The law of refraction—which I described in an earlier post—explains how light bends (or refracts) as it passes from one medium to another. Refraction makes taking aerial shots of coral reefs problematic because the subjects become distorted in the image. Using their fluid-correcting lenses, which are manufactured to take Snell’s law into account, NASA has deployed drones and small planes to take pictures of reefs around the world and produce 3D images of what the reefs should look like underwater.

That’s great and all, but all those coral need to be identified, which can take thousands of man hours and hundreds of people. By the time all of the pictures are processed and the coral identified, the reefs may look drastically different and all that data may no longer be relevant. So NASA decided to use the help of video gamers and citizen science to identify all the coral in their photos.

The Neural Multi-Modal Observation and Training Network (NeMO-Net) was created to help marine scientists identify and protect coral. The NeMO-Net game allows players to look at real 3D images of reefs and identify different families of coral, what’s just sand or an invertebrate on the seafloor, and other objects. Players color-code the image based on what they see, so each coral family has its own color, and then players upload their image to a database where other players and scientists can agree or correct what was submitted.

The approved images are used to train a supercomputer at the Ames Research Center to look through collected images and correctly identify what it sees, so that eventually the supercomputer can do it on its own. A supercomputer doesn’t need to sleep or get bored with repetition, so it can go through images a lot faster than a person can. This way, we can get a baseline for our reefs now, and we will be able to identify when there’s a problem so that we can try and fix it before it’s too late.

I have installed the game on my tablet. It’s a lot of fun, and I find it to be really relaxing. Most people can play the game; it doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary school or have a grandkid in elementary school.

NeMO-net is a simple game that allows you to go on virtual dives and identify things on the reef or coastline. You gain experience with each picture you submit, and you slowly level-up your way up the food chain. You can also gain badges and achievements for playing the game.

The best part, in my opinion, is that the game comes with videos that you can unlock. There are video field guides on various creatures you see, how the technology works, and the process behind everything. There’s also written information on the various families of coral you can identify in the game.

NeMO-net is a great way to spend your time and to get into citizen science without any complex understanding of the ocean. And it also makes you feel like you are part of the NASA team; in my case, I feel just a little bit more important to the coral I want to protect.

Links:
https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-calls-on-gamers-citizen-scientists-to-help-map-world-s-corals/
http://nemonet.info/

Law of Refraction

My husband’s late grandfather was a fascinating man and a brilliant engineer. When I first met him, he asked me if I knew about Snell’s law. At the time, I was still in college and hadn’t taken physics yet, but it sounded familiar. When he started to explain it to me, I recognized it as the law of refraction. I remember his eyes lighting up when I caught on. Later, I learned that it was one of the ways he judged a person, and he had deemed me worthy.

I bring up this physics term because it also relates to water.

The easiest way to explain Snell’s law is with a physical example.

Take a smooth, clear glass and fill it full of water. The glass or cup can’t have any ridges or funky shapes in the glass, or the demonstration might not turn out right. A pub-style pint glass works well. Next, find a straw or a pencil—I recommend an eco-friendly steel or biodegradable paper straw—and put it in the water. Now, spend some time looking at the glass from different angles. Look from above and at eye level with the water line, and move the straw around.

What you should see is that the straw doesn’t appear perfectly straight. Sometimes the submerged half of the straw seems slightly thicker. Sometimes the two ends don’t line up, and there may be a slight bend in the straw that isn’t actually there. From above the end of the straw might look a little curved to one side.

The law of refraction governs how light bends or refracts as it passes from one medium to another, like from the air to the water. This law explains why things are not always where they appear to be in the water as seen from the air.

Luckily for us, we have a straight forward equation we can use figure out the refracted angle, though you may need to do some more independent reading to understand why it works. Other creatures don’t have mathematical formulas to help them, though.

For example, an osprey flying over a body of water will have to learn how to accurately find its prey underwater or it will starve. From the air, a fish may appear to be in one spot but may actually be a few feet to the right. If the osprey misjudges where the fish is the first time and doesn’t catch it, then its chances of getting a fish the second time are greatly reduced because it lost the element of surprise. Birds of prey must learn to adjust to this optical illusion, a failed attempt at catching prey is a waste of energy.

Another example is the Australian archer fish, a fish that has developed the ability to spit jets of water at bugs on overhanging tree branches. Archer fish learn to do this because during the drought season, their normal food supply may become scarce, so they spit at bugs to try and knock them into the water to eat.

The same distortion exists for the archer fish below as it does for birds from above. The bug that the archer fish wants to knock off its branch may actually be three inches to the left instead of straight above the fish. So, through trial and error, archer fish learn to calculate where the bugs are above the water.

At the aquarium I volunteer at, one of my favorite activities is talking to guests about the archer fish’s ability to spit water at bugs on overhanging branches. Occasionally, we’re allowed to demonstrate this by getting a live cricket on a stick that we extend over the exhibit. Very quickly, little jets of water are arching out of the water as the fish try to knock the cricket into the water.

The fish that successfully hits the cricket isn’t always the one to eat the cricket. In fact, sometimes the pig-nose turtle in the tank gets the cricket. And sometimes, the volunteer (reads as: me) doing the demonstration gets spit in the face by the archer fish. But who can get mad at that? It actually made my day!

Sources:
https://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/refrn/Lesson-2/Snell-s-Law
https://www.math.ubc.ca/~cass/courses/m309-01a/chu/Fundamentals/snell.htm
https://www.britannica.com/science/Snells-law

Lionfish

A lionfish (Pterois volitans) rises up from the reef to hunt silversides. Photo taken by Dr. Alex Mustard, you can find more at www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygi
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Scorpaenidae
Genus: Pterois
Species: Pterois volitans

When talking about invasive species, I mentioned the lionfish. Can they hurt you? Yes. Are they devastating Atlantic coral reefs? Yes. However, they are not evil fish, despite one of their other common names: the devil firefish.

Pterois volitans is a beautiful fish native to the tropical waters of the eastern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. They can be found in depths of 7−180ft (2−55m) near seagrass beds, coral reefs, artificial reefs, and sunken ships. I’ve seen them hiding in crevasses or overhanging ledges on the reef.

When diving, lionfish can be fairly easy to identify. Along the head and body of the fish are alternating maroon and white strips, stretching from top to bottom. Long, unique, fan-like fins, with the same stipe pattern, help the lionfish corner its prey against a reef or hard surface. Along the top, are long striped spines that you want to avoid.

Lionfish are carnivorous fish that prey upon shrimp, crabs, and more than 50 species of fish. In their native habitats, they help to keep the reef healthy, and their populations are controlled by the few predators that eat lionfish, including a couple of species of moray eels and the bobbit worm.

In the Atlantic Ocean, however, they can eat all the available prey in a given reef if gone unchecked. With no natural predators in the Atlantic, and the fact that they produce a lot of eggs each year, their populations have boomed while the populations of herbivore and commercial fish have decreased.

Despite their invasion of the Atlantic, lionfish are quite important. Whether it’s in the Pacific, Indian, or Atlantic Ocean, Pterois volitans provides food and income to the coastal communities. Divers pay good money to see lionfish, and the fish is often the target of many spearfishing tournaments in the Atlantic. You can win hundreds of dollars, depending on where you sign up! Because they’re so distinctive, lionfish can be easy targets for divers.

P. volitans are also quite popular in home aquariums around the world. Their unique coloring and flamboyant fins make for a great conversation starter at a party! Just a reminder, though: if you’re getting rid of your aquarium fish, please don’t dump them in the ocean closest to you. Take them to your local aquarium and ask for help. You never want to dump a potential invasive species in your ocean.

Another common name for lionfish is tastyfish. When I was studying in Jamaica, our dive teams would always bring spear guns, and we would hunt lionfish while exploring or doing research. When we’d come back to the lab, we’d clean them and give them to the lab’s cafeteria. Let me tell you, those wonderful ladies made some amazingly spicy lionfish!

If we make it more popular to eat lionfish, then that will help solve the population issues in the Atlantic, and it will help take the pressure off some of our commercial fish. So, the next time you’re at your local fish market or restaurant, ask for lionfish and let the owners know you’re interested!

The coloration of a lionfish is a special adaptation called warning coloration, which indicates to potential predators that it’s unsafe to eat the lionfish. In this case, the warning is legitimate. In the spines along the top are glands that store venom. When the spines puncture the skin the glands release the venom into the wound. The venom can cause excruciating pain, sweating, paralysis, and respiratory distress; rarely has it been fatal to humans.

I had a couple of classmates get stung by lionfish. One kid got stung by a live one they didn’t see in the reef, which is why you never reach your hands into areas you can’t fully see. Another kid got stung when handling a dead lionfish. In both cases, they had to be rushed to the doctor, but even after being treated, the wounds remained quite painful for a while. So please be careful while diving around lionfish or when handling them!

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) fritters offered as an after dive snack. Photo taken by Dr. Alex Mustard, you can find more at http://www.amustard.com

Sources and links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/pterois-volitans/
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/ecosystems/impacts-invasive-lionfish
https://www.britannica.com/animal/lionfish
https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2013/07/19/top-5-myths-about-lionfish/
https://lionfishcentral.org/resources/lionfish-recipes/ ←lionfish recipes you can try at home!

Osprey

Photo of an osprey by Frank Cone from Pexels

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Pandionidae
Genus: Pandion
Species: Pandion haliaetus

The last bird I spoke of was a flightless bird, the African penguin. Penguins are the only flightless aquatic birds. Today, I’ll be discussing an aquatic bird that has been seen on every continent but Antarctica: the osprey.

Pandion haliaetus is a bird of prey that often gets mistaken for a bald eagle, at least in the United States. From far below, these two birds can look very similar. Both species are large (around two feet tall or more) with wing spans of five to six feet. Ospreys and bald eagles frequent many of the same hunting grounds too: rivers, lakes, estuaries, and other coastal areas.

They way to tell an osprey from a bald eagle is by the coloring. If the birds are flying overhead, a bald eagle has a dark underside while an osprey has a white underbelly and legs. If you get close enough to see their heads, look for the dark stripe that streaks away from the eyes of the osprey.

Ospreys primarily feed on fish. They soar high above the water until they locate their prey. Then the bird drives straight for the water and hooks its talons around a fish. Pandion haliaetus have specially adapted feet that allow them to keep hold of their slippery prey: their talons are long and curved, and the soles of their feet are spiny, the better to grip their prey. After catching its prey, the osprey returns to its nest high above the ground.

Fun fact: In the US, bald eagles will often attack ospreys, trying to get the slightly smaller bird to release its fish. Once the osprey releases the fish, the bald eagle stops pursuing it and grabs the fish from the air.

P. haliaetus are migratory birds. They like to spend their winters in warmer climes, so they travel to the southern hemisphere when the northern hemisphere cools for winter, much like a lot of older humans I know.

Ospreys like to nest high in the trees or on the crags of a seashore or estuary. However, they have made use of artificial places, as well; many of their nests have been found on top of street lights and telephone poles. Often, the ospreys will return to old nests for many years.

Ospreys have one brood a year, and their nests contain two or three eggs. Seven weeks after the chicks hatch, the fledgling ospreys leave the nest to venture off on their own.

In the 1950s-1960s, the osprey populations were declining drastically. Researchers discovered that their eggs were becoming too brittle, and the osprey parents were accidentally breaking the eggs when they laid on them to keep them warm.

Studies showed that a common chemical of pesticides at the time, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), was found to be the cause of the brittle eggs, through a process called biomagnification. The process is a bit complicated to explain here; essentially, it’s a process whereby harmful chemicals build up as they travel up the food chain until they eventually become quite lethal to those at the top, such as predatory birds and humans.

Fortunately, this is not a sad tale like that of Stellar’s sea cow.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published the book Silent Spring wherein she described the effects and consequences of DDT. She made public the drastic declines of predatory birds, like the osprey and the bald eagle, and the cause of it. From Silent Spring, a movement was born, DDT was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, and stricter regulations on pesticides were passed.

Since then, the populations of osprey and bald eagles have bounced back with vigor. Ospreys have been labeled as least concern, meaning that they are no longer threatened by extinction.

I don’t believe that I have ever seen an osprey despite living near the coast. But I wanted to share this bird with you, along with its connection to Silent Spring as a reminder that not everything is doom and gloom in the world, at least when it comes to extinction and climate change. I wanted to show this as proof that we are not too far gone, that there is still hope for the future.

The book Silent Spring saved the ospreys and bald eagles of North America. If it was done once, it can be done again.

Who knows, maybe you will be the author of the next Silent Spring that awakens the world. Or maybe you’ll be one of the readers, doing your part to persuade a government.

Just remember that not all hope is lost.

Sources and links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of History
Smithsonian Nature Guide: Birds by David Burnie
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/osprey
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Osprey/id
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/o/osprey/
https://nhpbs.org/wild/silentspring.asp <—some info on Silent Spring and DDT 

Beach Clean-up

The weather is getting warmer, and people are getting more and more stir crazy. Beaches are starting to open back up to the public. I cannot tell you whether or not it is a good idea to go to the beach, but if you do, I would ask you to do a small favor for me: please bring a small bag or trash bag with you and collect some trash.

Beaches have always been an unfortunate dumping ground for trash, whether it is intentional or not. People can be careless and forgetful, leaving behind their plastic bottles and food wrappers. Sometimes the wind will carry off someone’s trash before they had a chance to throw it away. And sometimes trash will blow onto the beach from the surrounding communities.

However the trash gets there, it does not belong on the beach. Once it gets on the beach it will more than likely get into the water and travel more distance on the waves than any sailor in their lifetime. Or the trash will sink beneath the waves and end up in the stomachs of whales, dolphins, or large fish, never to be digested and slowly starving the animal as it builds in their stomachs.

It’s a harsh thing to say, but it is a reality that keeps occurring.

So what can you do to help?

Bring a trash bag or even a small plastic or paper bag with you whenever you go to the beach. Make sure you collect your own trash in those bags, pin them down with your beach bag or shoes so the wind doesn’t derail your efforts, and take the trash with you when you leave. You can dispose of the bag in a trash can provided by the city, if it’s overflowing with trash then you can dispose your trash at home.

If you’re feeling up to it, you can collect the trash on the beach that is not yours as well. Whenever I walk a beach, I make sure to bring a small bag with me, picking up trash as I go along. Not everyone is comfortable with this for one reason or another. So please do what makes you comfortable.

The easiest thing is to make sure all the items you brought to the beach come home with you, especially sandals and toys that may get left behind. If you want to do more, fantastic! You can use gloves to pick up trash if you don’t want to touch it yourself, or even tongs or something of the like.

I know it may seem embarrassing to collect trash in front of other people, but think about it. If five people see you pick up trash, then it might inspire one of them to start doing it too. And then that could encourage two more people to pick up trash, and so on, creating a domino effect that for once has a positive impact on the environment instead of a negative one.

But it’s all about comfort.

So let’s say you’re only comfortable collecting your own trash, but still five people see you do that. Then one of those five thinks it’s a good idea and now there are two people making sure they keep their trash off the beach. Then you guys tell your friends, and other people see you too, and now there are ten people cleaning up after themselves and telling their friends about it. Again, it’ll help create a cascading event that will lead to the majority of people practicing good behavior on the beach and cleaning up their own trash.

All it takes is one brave person to inspire a movement that will influence a society, even if it seems like a simple, small act.

Whether you choose to pick up only your own trash or cleaning up all the trash you can see, you are making an important impact. That’s one less bag of trash that may end up in a whale’s stomach, never to be digested. And if you never go to the beach, talk to all the people you know who do and convince them to help keep the beaches clean.

Never forget that you are important. Never forget that your decisions and your actions can help change the environment around you.

 

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Today I’m going to talk to you about a beach community that I love: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, USA.

My husband and his family have been visiting this beach for decades; so, naturally, it’s one that I have frequented myself over the past few years. It’s a wonderful beach community that is a popular tourist location without being super built up. There aren’t dozens of mini-golf places and hotels to clog up the beach front. In fact, you can walk to the beach from almost anywhere within the town proper.

All of the more common tourist attractions like chain restaurants, outlet malls, mini-golf, and amusement parks are built away from the town, to help keep the beach area less cluttered. The local businesses and family restaurants are located within the town. I really enjoy this set up because you can easily pick a place to stay within the town, rent a house or condo or a hotel room, and you don’t have to use your car for the entire visit. You can walk anywhere within the town, which has 99% of what you may need during your visit.

Now that I’m done advertising the town, let me talk about the beach!

Rehoboth Beach is a strip of sand that stretches for about a mile, its waters coming from the Atlantic Ocean. Spanning the backside of the beach, toward the town, are fenced-off areas called dunes. A dune is a stretch of land where sand or sediment accumulates and is held in place by vegetation, like dune grass. Not every beach has dunes, and they can be delicate habitats that are important to various species. The dunes on Rehoboth Beach are fenced off to keep people from disturbing them.

There’s nothing particularly unique about the beach itself. The beach isn’t full of broken species of coral or tiny sea shells that have replaced the sand. It’s not a special breeding ground for any particular species. In fact, Delaware Bay gets a lot of horseshoe crabs during May and June for massive breeding parties, but Rehoboth Beach isn’t part of that action.

However, it’s still a great beach to visit with a wonderful community attached to it. It’s a very clean beach, and the locals are trying to keep it safe for native species and visitors alike.

I really enjoy this beach because of all the cool critters that I have found here. This beach has semi-diurnal tides, meaning that it has two equal high tides and two equal low tides every lunar day, or 24 hours and 50 minutes. After high tide, I enjoy going onto the beach to see what the water has washed up.

I’ve seen blue swimmer crabs trying to make it back to the water. I’ve seen deflated jellyfish that died after it had been beached. I’ve found broken pieces of horseshoe crabs and entire whelk egg cases, which look like alien spinal cords. And I’ve found sea glass on occasion, not to mention the countless number of shells that were mostly intact.

Rehoboth Beach may not be a place to put on your bucket list, but it’s a cool place to visit at least once. If you go, I recommend walking along the beach just after high tide—that’s the best time to see what the waves have left behind! Just please be careful as you walk the beach; some of the critters may still be alive.