John “Charlie” Veron

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Homo
Species: Homo sapiens

I want to take the time to talk about the major people that have been involved in the various aspects of marine science. During freshman year of college, my very first class was spent talking about some of the influential people that helped to get us to where we are today, one being Aristotle and his recorded work in marine biology. So many people—naturalists, sailors, and scientists—have done so much for all of the fields in marine science that I didn’t know where to start, but I want them all to be known.

So I went back to why I started this blog, because I’m a coral enthusiast, and I wanted to share my love for them and their world with everyone else, which led me to Charlie Veron, a fellow coral lover.

Born in Sydney, Australia in 1945, Dr. Veron has spent his life dedicated to coral and their reefs, so much so that he has been dubbed the “King of Coral” or the “Godfather of Coral.” How did he earn such a title?

Dr. Veron is credited for formally naming and describing over 100 new species of coral and discovering about 20% of the world’s coral species. He’s worked in Australia, the Caribbean, and every major coral reef area in the world. Many of the species he has found belong to the genus Acropora, the same genus as the Elkhorn coral that I first spoke about!

He’s written several books, including a three volume series called The Coral of the World, and he’s authored more than 100 scientific papers. Even now, he hasn’t put up his hat at over 70 years old!

With the help of many colleagues, Dr. Veron is developing a free website based on his famous three-volume book on coral. The website is updated as information changes and is an amazing resource for students and researchers alike—and I can’t wait to start looking through it myself! He’s also actively campaigning on climate change, ocean acidification, mass bleaching of coral reefs, and so many related issues through interviews and documentaries.

I highly recommend watching some of the documentaries that he’s featured in. I got the chance to see Raising Extinction by Rob Stewart, in which Dr. Veron had had an interview, and he was so interesting to listen to. It’s nice to see that even at such an age, he still has so much love and conviction for the ocean, and I’m thankful for all that he’s done and is still doing. His work is inspiring, whether or not you’re interested in coral!

Sources and cool links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
http://www.coralsoftheworld.org/species_factsheets/ (This is the website I was talking about!!!!!)
http://therevolutionmovie.com/index.php/biography/dr-john-charlie-veron/

Sharks up Close by Jim Abernethy and Jennifer R. Nolan

Sharks up Close by Jim Abernethy and Jennifer R Nolan. Photography by Jim Abernethy

I have an interesting habit of buying books and not reading them for an untold amount of time, and that includes my nonfiction library as well. I buy books on sale, when I visit local bookshops and aquariums, or if I have coupons I want to use. I really do want to read the books—I swear! Sometimes my attention gets taken by something else.

Sharks up Close was one of those books that I bought from an aquarium a few years ago, and the other day I finally sat down to read it. The book is written by Jim Abernethy and Jennifer R. Nolan with a forward written by Shawn Heinrichs, another photographer and conservationist. However, it’s not Shawn’s photos that the book uses. All the photography is done by Jim Abernethy himself, and let me tell you, his photos are gorgeous.

I met Jim Abernethy during my early years of college when he had been giving a talk on sharks and his own journey with conservation. His talk was so inspiring, I just had to have Sharks up Close to help show support.

The book is very easy to follow and was obviously written for a younger audience, but I would argue that adults will find it interesting as well. Each topic is introduced by asking a question. The topics range from anatomy to behavior to conservation. The language is very straightforward, they do a wonderful job talking about each topic without using too much technical jargon.

I really enjoyed the question-answer format, because a lot of the questions in the book I’ve been asked by other people. It was very helpful to read and I think it may help out parents as well, especially if their children are enthusiastic about sharks!

Towards the end of the book, it talks about conservation efforts and the nature of shark finning. It’s not an easy topic to read about, personally, I find it horrific whenever I read about the issue. That topic may be tough on some kids, especially with some of the photos. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terribly graphic but it may upset some of the more sensitive readers. The book ends on a positive note by listing ways in which we can help with shark conservation.

I recommend this book as a gift for anyone interested in sharks. The photography is amazing and the language is very easy to understand. I believe it would be a perfect gift for a child, and an interesting book to read together!

Coral part 2

Photo taken by Dr. Alexander Mustard. You can find more of his amazing photos on his website www.amustard.com

Last time, I mentioned all the factors that determine a coral’s success in an area, and most of those factors relate to hard coral or reef building coral. Soft coral are a bit different from their constructive cousins; for instance, they don’t all rely on zooxanthellae, and so most of this information pertains to hard corals—but don’t worry, I’ll get to soft corals eventually!

For hard coral, the factors that affect their success in an area include water temperature, salinity, depth, water circulation, and clarity.

Most of these factors aren’t hard to explain because we can relate to them. For instance, we don’t like to be too warm or too cold. It’s the same with coral: they don’t like their water to be too warm or too cold, so their ideal range is between 85°F‒70°F. This is not a very strict range because there are reefs and species found outside these temperatures, but for the most part this is important for reef-building coral.

Hard corals also don’t like their water to be too fresh or too salty. They prefer their water to have a salinity level between 30 and 40 parts per thousand (ppt).

Next, we’ll talk about water circulation. This one is really important because coral can’t move elsewhere once the food is gone, they’re sedentary. They’re not like humans, who can get off the couch and grab food when they’re hungry. Coral pretty much have to be in an area that always has food—so it’s like if your cousin decided to live in the supermarket for the rest of their life. Coral feed on zooplankton, which for now let’s describe as plankton-size animals, and that means that the coral’s food isn’t regularly replenishing. Instead, coral rely on water circulation, either through water currents or wave actions, to stir up the water and bring nutrients and food to them. Without good circulation, coral can easily starve, even the hard coral that obtain most of their energy from zooxanthellae.

The final two factors determining coral survivability are especially important to hard coral because of their partnership with zooxanthellae, and these factors are related to sunlight: water clarity and depth. Water clarity is defined by how clear the water is. If the water is really cloudy and full of particles, then the zooxanthellae may not be able to receive enough light for photosynthesis. Depth has similar effects: sunlight can only penetrate so far into the ocean before the only visible light comes from bioluminescent creatures. If the coral is anchored too far from the surface, then the zooxanthellae may not get enough light and the pair can die.

There are coral that can survive outside of these factors; for instance, they have discovered coral in the deep ocean at depths of 6,000 m (20,000 ft)—that’s almost four miles below the ocean’s surface. Deep-sea coral are fascinating because they vary from their shallow-water relatives, but I’ll get to those later.

If the hard coral’s habitat changes beyond these set factors, then it can have devastating impacts on the organism. If the conditions don’t return to the normal, then the coral will expel their zooxanthellae in a process called Coral Bleaching. Some research has suggested that the coral can reacquire their zooxanthellae or even acquire new zooxanthellae. However, there are still a lot of unknowns in regards to Coral Bleaching and coral health, which is why continued research is so important!

If the coral die then the reef dies, and from there it’s a domino effect that will very quickly impacts us. Without the reefs the world fish populations will dramatically decrease. Less fish means less food for the animals that live in the ocean, and less fish for us as well. If we compete with creatures like dolphins and whales for food, then those populations of animals will dramatically decrease as well. All in all, coral reefs are the rainforests of the sea in terms of biodiversity, habitat, and oxygen production.

It’s not all desolate and hopeless. There is research being done through the field of aquaculture in trying to grow coral ourselves to help save the reefs, most of which are being done at aquariums and universities. Researchers are trying to figure out ways to preserve the reefs that we have now, and to protect them from further climate-change-inflicted damage.

However, a grim-looking future faces us if we can’t curb the effects of climate change on our oceans, and that’s why YOU are so important in this struggle too. Everything you can do, big or small, to saving energy and reducing plastic use to conservation research programs will help lessen the impact of climate change and preserve our reefs for future generations.

World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky

Cover of the book: World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky and illustrated by Frank Stockton

For Earth Day 2020 I decided to go for most of the day without electronics. For a whole day I went without my tablet, my laptop, and a TV. For half of the day, from 5pm-midnight, I kept my phone off.

What did I do with all of this sudden free time? I spent my morning outside cleaning up the yard, the weather was quite nice after a few days of rain. Then I spent the rest of the day reading.

One of the books I read was World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky with illustrations by Frank Stockton. It’s an interesting book about the history of fishing, focusing on commercial fishing in the ocean, how overfishing became a problem, and the dangers of overfishing.

The language is easy enough to understand for anyone in middle grade school and above, and the author does a wonderful job explaining more complex issues in a way that others would be able to understand. The illustrations help to break up long sections of information, and they’re rather nice to look at.

Inside the book, there is also a several part comic that follows the story of a dad and daughter, eventually showing the future of a fishless sea. Not gonna lie, the comic is depressing and it didn’t really hit me until the end. Still, it’s a creative way to show a possible future if we don’t do something about unsustainable fishing now.

Overall, I would recommend this book to everyone I can. Not only is it a good history o commercial fishing, but it provides insights as to how fishing became a problem and that fishermen are not at the root of it all. In fact, it shows that both sides made mistakes and that both sides want to fix the problem. It also looks at all the viable options for sustainable fishing practices and the science behind each. And finally, it gives information on how we the consumers can help promote sustainable fishing by shopping for the right products.

Mark Kurlansky gives the readers all sorts of information on how to learn more about supporting sustainable fishing, including what labels to look out for, websites for more information, and even a pamphlet that you can cut out and carry with you.

For those who want to take it a step beyond the grocery store, especially grade schoolers who want to do more, he provides steps you can take to promote sustainable fish. Including, how to protest and bring up the issue in your local stores and restaurants while still being civil, making proactive groups at school, and how to bring it to the attention of the government.

Again, World Without Fish is an insightful read that brings to light a possible future that we can see in our lifetime. It’s a call for change, and it provides resources on how to act now in peaceful ways. I recommend it to everyone. I also recommend that parents and children read it together. There’s always hope, and it starts with us.

“All life on earth is interconnected, and altered circumstances will change the order of life at sea, which will also change life on land. And all of this can and will have an enormous impact on our lives” ~Mark Kurlansky, pg. xvii