Upwelling

When I talked about the Gulf of Guinea, I mentioned that it was a site of coastal upwelling. There are different kinds of upwelling, depending on how the process occurs. Upwelling can occur off the coast or in the open ocean. Today, I’m going to give a general overview of upwelling.

Upwelling is a process in which deep, cold water is brought to the surface of the ocean. Upwelling occurs when wind pushes the surface water away, allowing the deeper water to rise to the surface. This cold water is typically full of nutrients that are vital for seaweed and plankton growth, creating areas of high productivity.

In this nutrient-rich water, seaweed and plankton population increases drastically, which sets off a chain reaction. The large amount of seaweed attracts herbivorous fish, and the large amount of plankton attracts filter feeders and small fish. Larger fish are attracted by all the small fish. Sharks, dolphins, and even sea birds are attracted by the large amounts of fish in the area.

Areas of upwelling are very important to both the ocean and to humans.

Upwelling provides food for all kind of fish, marine mammals, and sea birds. Think of the open ocean as a desert. It’s so vast and deep that it could be days before a dolphin or a shark can find their next meal. Areas of upwelling in the open ocean are like an oasis, especially for migratory animals who might not encounter a lot of food on their long journeys.

Coastal upwelling covers about 1% of the world’s oceans, but it provides about 50% of all our harvested fish. Some of the most successful fishing grounds occur in or around areas of upwelling. And when something happens and the upwelling stops, like in an El Niño weather event, the fishing industry takes a heavy hit, harvesting fewer and smaller fish.

Upwelling is so important that scientists and businesses are joining together to try and figure out how to create artificial upwelling using technology. So if you’re looking for a job in something groundbreaking, look into artificial upwelling! I have a feeling that it’ll be an important endeavor for years to come.

Sources and links:
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/upwelling.html ⇐ brief look into upwelling
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/upwelling/ ⇐ more in-depth view of upwelling and coastal upwelling
https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/02quest/background/upwelling/upwelling.html

Alexandrium monilatum

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Prostita
Phylum: Dinophyta
Class: Dinophyceae
Order: Gonyaulacales
Genus: Alexandrium
Species: monilatum

After spending some time talking about the horrors of invasive species, let me throw you a curve ball. We should all agree that invasive/nonnative species are harmful to us and the environments that they infiltrate. However, not all native species are good for their environment either.

How can organisms that are part of the natural balance of their environment be bad for it?

The simplest explanation I can give is this example. Our bodies need potassium to function properly, which we get from food like bananas. If our bodies don’t have enough potassium, then our muscles cramp and we can become stiff and sore. If we consume too much potassium, then it can poison and even kill us. Don’t worry, though; you would have to consume a truck load of bananas in a single day for that to happen.

Like our own bodies, environments need everything in moderation.

Alexandrium monilatum is a single-celled dinoflagellate found in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, parts of the Pacific Ocean, and the Chesapeake Bay. It is a special kind of bioluminescent algae; when agitated, the organism produces its own light in the form of a soft blue glow.

This dinoflagellate can reproduce sexually and asexually, meaning it can use its own genetic material to make copies of itself without the use of other individuals. It can also produce chains of individuals, ranging from 2 to 80 A. monilatum per strand.

A. monilatum uses photosynthesis to create its own food, making it a phototroph. It is preyed upon by small fish and filter feeders, making it part of the base of the food chain. So how can this armored alga be a bad thing? It sounds so productive, and it even glows blue at night when waves stirs the water!

The problem with A. monilatum is that it is considered a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) species. When conditions are right, this species will reproduce faster than it can be consumed by its predators, causing an algal bloom in the water. Blooms are large patches of algae that are seen by the naked eye, meaning there are millions of individuals concentrated in a single area.

Blooms are considered a problem because the water contains a finite amount of nutrients available to the algae. Once the supply runs out, it’ll take time to replace those needed nutrients. So these blooms are extremely productive for a short time, before the algae run out of food and die. When they die, they start to decompose. The process of decomposition takes up a lot of oxygen, and without the photosynthesizers there to replace the oxygen being used, the water becomes hypoxic—or worse, anoxic.

Once the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water is depleted, the area becomes a dead zone, and all the fish and other marine organisms either leave or suffocate in the water. Dead zones aren’t always permanent; however, they are still an inconvenience to the marine life and to us and should be prevented at all cost.

It is not my purpose to make Alexandrium monilatum out to be a bad guy, just to show that even native species can harm their environment under certain conditions. Algal blooms, or red tides, can be caused by a steep increase in important nutrients found in fertilizers, which enter the water as run-off from nearby farms, gardens, and agricultural facilities. A boom in available food causes a boom in creatures that depend on it, and that’s true no matter the species.

Bioluminescent algae are fascinating. I was lucky enough to swim at night in a lake full of a species of bioluminescent algae, though I’m uncertain what species it was. It was a magical experience that I will never forget, so I was excited to talk about A. monilatum and to discuss the importance of balance within an ecosystem.

Sources and more info:
https://naturalhistory2.si.edu/smsfp/IRLSpec/Alexan_monila.htm
https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/alexandrium_monilatum
https://www.vims.edu/bayinfo/habs/guide/alexandrium.php
https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/harmful-algal-blooms-habs/alexandrium-monilatum-hab-in-lower-york-lower-james-rivers-and-chesapeake-bay/frequently-asked-questions-faqs-alexandrium-monilatum/

Invasive Species

Invasive is such a harsh word. How can a natural creature be considered an invasive species? Nobody likes weeds, but everyone likes pretty fish and colorful birds—so, how can those be considered dangerous?

An invasive species is any living organism that is found outside of their native environment and has or will cause harm. The harm it can cause can be to the nonnative environment itself, the economy, or humans, or a combination of the three.

The zebra mussels that I’ve spoken about are an example of an invasive species in the United States. They are native to the freshwaters of Eurasia but somehow made it to the United States in the 1980s. Wherever the zebra mussels have been found, outside of Eurasia, they have outcompeted all native species and have changed the environments that they have invaded.

Another example is the lionfish. Its native habitat is the Indo-Pacific Ocean, however, it has made its way to the Atlantic Ocean. It reproduces rather successfully and has no natural predators in the Atlantic waters, so it has decimated many coral reef populations by devouring the herbivorous fish that help keep the reefs clean of algae. Without the algae eaters, the coral are smothered by the thick blankets of algae that naturally grow on them.

Not all invasive species are easy to comprehend at first. For instance, in many countries, domesticated cats and dogs are considered to be invasive species. How can Mittens or Spike be considered invasive? Humans absolutely love them and they (mostly) love us!

Dogs, and especially cats, are considered invasive species in many countries outside of Europe. They were brought over during the time of colonization, and their populations quickly grew unchecked. Dogs threaten native small animal populations, and cats wreak havoc on the native bird populations. For example, the Galapagos penguin population has been hit hard by the invasive house cat populations in South America.

Invasive species don’t have to look exotic. Sometimes they look normal, or they’re hard to notice at all. Invasive species can include plants, animals, fungi, insects, and microbes. And their effects on the local populations can be devastating, as when settlers first encountered native people, and the germs the settlers brought with them killed a lot of the native people of the land who did not have the same immunities built up as the settlers did.

Invasive species can also cause harm in other ways. New microbes introduced to an area can cause illness in people. Insects that have hitchhiked in shipping containers can run wild in new places and hurt the people there, like invasive species of hornets or spiders. Invasive jellyfish can fill the waters and harm beach goers.

Invasive species can even cause harm economically. Invasive hornets destroy beehives that produce honey to be sold. Zebra mussels clog pipes and encrust boats; it costs a lot of money to remove them, and it’s usually not a one-time expense. Lionfish have made coral reefs barren, reducing the populations of game and harvestable fish to low numbers, and impacting aquatic tourism.
Luckily, there are ways to handle invasive species. The best way is to prevent them from entering delicate ecosystems that they don’t belong to. For humans, that means being more careful when transporting food and supplies over long distances. It means finding new owners for exotic animals when you no longer want or can care for them—don’t just release them into the wild!

There are also ways to reduce invasive species numbers. For instance, many places around Florida and the Caribbean offer cash prizes for lionfish through spear-hunting competitions. Or you can encourage local chefs and restaurants to serve invasive species on the menu. The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland frequently serves invasive fish in their diner.

I’ve eaten lionfish, and it’s pretty tasty! Mine was served Jamaican style, featuring a lot of spices that I wasn’t used to, but if prepared properly, it’s a great fish to eat. I’ve also had invasive catfish that was found in our local waters, and it didn’t taste that different from the native catfish, just maybe a little sweeter. So there are all kinds of ways to deal with invasive species, but it’s up to us to keep them in check!

More information:
https://www.britannica.com/science/invasive-species
https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Threats-to-Wildlife/Invasive-Species
https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/
https://www.livescience.com/64533-lionfish.html

Estuaries

I absolutely love the written word. Why? Because we can have so many names for the same subject/object and it can confuse those who don’t know all the different words.

For instance, estuaries can also called be bays, sounds, sloughs, or lagoons. Though, a coastal lagoon is different from an estuary, but we’ll get to that in a later post—let’s just agree for now that common names are a blessing and a curse.

Estuary is a very broad term because it includes both fresh and brackish water ecosystems, and there are three types of estuaries: salt-wedge, partially mixed, and fully mixed. Each type of estuary is determined by how the fresh and salt water mix.

Today, we’ll just start with a broad overview of coastal estuaries.

An estuary is an area where fresh water from a large stream or river mixes with the salt water from the ocean. This mixing results in brackish water, a chaotic medium between fresh and salt water. Brackish water is too salty to be considered fresh water, but not salty enough to be sea water.

What do I mean by chaotic? The salinity of an estuary changes with every season, passing day, and cycle of the tides. For instance, at high tide the salinity will be higher than at low tide because there is more ocean water mixing with the river water. During the rainy season, the salinity will be lower because the river/stream will have a lot more fresh water from the land runoff than normal, mixing more fresh water than usual with the ocean water. This chaotic nature makes estuaries interesting ecosystems for organisms to adapt to.

Due to their long, funnel-like shape, most estuaries don’t experience a gradual rise and fall of the tides. Instead, the tides rush into the estuary with such force that they create strong currents and even wall-like waves called tidal bores. With the tide comes offshore sediments that get deposited in the estuary as mud, and with the high rate of sedimentation, this mud builds up and creates special habitats within the estuary. In the tropics, these mud areas are called mangrove swamps; everywhere else, they’re called tidal mudflats and salt marshes—but I’ll discuss these habitats in detail later.

Estuaries are crucial to both the land and the ocean.

Estuaries provide a rich source of food for waders and shorebirds. Various types of migratory birds will stop at an estuary to consume worms and crustaceans that live in the mud before continuing on their way. Estuaries also provide breeding grounds for both land and aquatic animals.

One of the greatest functions of an estuary is that it is a natural water filter, helping to ensure that the water coming from the land is as clean as possible before entering the ocean. The process of filtration is complicated and requires a lot more explanation than I have time for today.

The take-away message for this post: estuaries are highly important to the ocean and the land, and they have recorded high levels of productivity for centuries. A lot of the early settlements of man were found in estuaries, such as the Nile Delta, the Ganges, and the Yellow River valley. Even many of today’s popular coastal centers, like New York City and London, were developed on estuaries. And because they attract us, estuaries are also highly susceptible to pollution and need to be protected.
Sources:
Ocean the Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.britannica.com/science/estuary/Geology-and-geomorphology#ref335485
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/estuary.html
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/estuary/

Chesapeake Bay, United States

So far, I have talked about places that I want to see for myself in the future, and I’ve yet to talk about anything that is a bit closer to home for me. It’s not that I don’t like the places closer to home, but I think sometimes I forget that what is normal for me may considered extraordinary to other people. Today, we will be talking about the Chesapeake Bay, which plays a role in my life every day.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is the third largest in the world. A quick-and-dirty definition of an estuary is it’s an aquatic area in which rivers meet the sea, where freshwater and saltwater mix.

Now, the Chesapeake Bay is fed by over 150 rivers and streams, but its main source comes from the Susquehanna River. The total area of the bay is about 3200 square miles. For those that need help visualizing how big the bay is, it’s about three times as large as Rhode Island, and it is also bigger than the state of Delaware—that’s a lot of area! And it’s not just water; this even covers all the various salt marshes and sub-estuaries around it as well.

Surrounding the bay are coastlines that belong to both Maryland and Eastern Virginia, but the watershed that it belongs to includes four other states! Even though the productivity of the bay has decreased drastically over the years, it still provides more fish and shellfish than any other estuary in the United States and provides over 500 million pounds of seafood a year, so if you like eating oysters or crabs, they probably came from the Chesapeake Bay.

The bay is very important because it supports more than 3600 plant and animal species; it also supports more than 17 million people who live, work, and play in and around the bay. If you’ve never visited the area, I highly recommend spending time somewhere along the bay. There are many beautiful camp grounds you can stay at. There are boating and fishing opportunities, and all sorts of trails and parks around the bay that will give you a beautiful scenic, and informative look at the life of an estuary and its salt marshes.

There are even places where you can sign up to help clean up the trash and pollution from surrounding areas that get washed up. It’ll definitely take more than a single trip to see even half of what there is to offer, but visiting the Chesapeake Bay will be totally worth it in the end—especially if you have great weather to experience it in!

The Chesapeake Bay is very important to me because I have always been one of those 17 million people that it has helped to support. I have been to camp grounds around the bay and have sailed it a few times. It is a beautiful place to lose and find yourself, and I believe it is an environment worth saving and preserving for many generations to come!

So, please, if you have the time, come and see this place for yourself; it truly is a national treasure! And who knows, you may see dolphins or a humpback whale or two.

Sources and cool links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/chesapeake-bay-watershed-geography-and-facts.html
https://www.nps.gov/chba/learn/nature/national-treasure.htm

Shark Bay, Australia

All right, ladies and gents, last week we chatted about Shell Beach in Australia. For this week’s adventure, we’re going to pack up our fins and snorkels and head to Shark Bay again, but this time we’ll focus on the area as a whole. And remember, please keep your hands to yourself and watch where you put your feet; we are guests in their environment, and we don’t want to accidentally poke a shark!

Shark Bay is located on the most westerly point of the Australian continent and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. The protected area covers about 2.2 million hectares. That’s a lot of area, but how do you visualize that?

Well, Shark Bay is about the size of 2.2 million rugby fields, or baseball fields, smashed together in one giant area. If you’re not a sports fan, then visualize Shark Bay as being about the size of New Jersey and roughly half the size of Switzerland. Anyways, that’s a lot of protected area, and 70% of it includes the surrounding marine waters.

Many aspects make this area unique.

It has one of the largest, most diverse seagrass beds in the world with at least 16 different species of seagrass. It’s one of three places in the world where you can look at stromatolites, which I’ll talk about later; for now, I’ll just tell you they are one of the oldest forms of life on Earth—they’re like living fossils!

Shark Bay is home to around 200 species of birds, almost 100 species of reptiles, and several marine species, many of which are threatened or endangered. It has a large population of marine life, including dolphins, dugongs, sharks, rays, two species of endangered sea turtles, and two species of whales, not to mention all of the fish and invertebrates drawn to the seagrass beds.

This area is so important to so very many species living on land and in the water, and it gives you an interesting look at biological and geological evolution overtime. This is the perfect place to go to if you love birds, reptiles, plants, or the ocean—I think I could spend a whole week here and still not do everything I’d like to!

There are all sorts of things to do at Shark Bay! You can dive and snorkel in the waters. There’s a marine park, an aquarium, and a national park to explore. There are guided land tours, boat tours, dive tours, and marine safaris! You can see dolphins, whales, sharks, Manta rays, Green turtles, Loggerhead turtles, and dugongs!

You can explore the seagrass bed or the surrounding land area. There’s Shell Beach to relax at and the Hamelin Pool stromatolites to see! There’s so much, and I’m so ready to pack my bags and go myself—if I ever get the money and the time to go. For those of you who can go, please experience this place and maybe share all your cool stories!

Sources and cool links:
https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/578
https://www.sharkbay.org/about/
https://www.australiascoralcoast.com/destination/shark-bay-world-heritage-area
https://oceanpark.com.au/shark-bay/

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/