MarineLab staff celebrated World Oceans Day in style this year by participating in Coral Restoration Foundation’s first annual Plantapalooza. CRF set the lofty goal of planting 1,000 corals in one day off of the Upper Keys, something CRF has never done before. The goal was exceeded with 1,600 corals being planted in celebration of Mother Ocean. In the morning, we went out to the Elbow nursery to prepare staghorn corals for outplanting. We spent the afternoon underwater- MarineLab staff helped to plant over 400 corals at Grecian Rocks! It was a long, exhausting day but we were so happy to be a part of an event that helps to restore our reefs and brings so much awareness to the habitat we all love so much.
Did you know????
- Most commonly used plastics NEVER go away!! They just break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.
- Microplastics have now been documented in all five of the ocean’s subtropical gyres – and have even been detected in Arctic sea ice. Some of the highest accumulations occur thousands of miles from land.
- Plastics affect wildlife directly when ingested but also affect wildlife indirectly by accumulating pollutants such as PCBs. PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1979 and internationally since 2001.
- Microplastics have been found in organisms ranging in size from small invertebrates to large mammals,
If you want to learn more, go to: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/plastic.html
If you are interested in how you can get involved in a marine debris cleanup during your next MarineLab adventure ask us about our Service Learning Programs.
It was just another day at sea for Captain Ryan and his trusty mate Chelsea when they were driving students from the reef back to MarineLab. Someone spotted plastic in the water so Cap’n stopped to retrieve it. Turns out the plastic they were picking up was part of a NOAA radiosonde. Once back to the dock, we were all intrigued and immediately got online to figure out what it was that they found.
The radiosonde is a small, expendable instrument package (weighs 100 to 500 grams) that is suspended below a large balloon inflated with hydrogen or helium gas. These “weather balloons” are deployed by NOAA National Weather Service to get data on forecasts, weather and climate change research, input for air pollution models, and ground truthing for satellite data. As the radiosonde rises at about 1,000 feet/minute, sensors on the radiosonde measure profiles of pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. These sensors are linked to a battery powered radio transmitter that sends the sensor measurements to a sensitive ground tracking antenna.
If the radiosonde could talk, oh the places it has been…
- A typical “weather balloon” sounding can last in excess of two hours, and the radiosonde can ascend to over 115,000 feet and drift more than 180 miles from the release point.
- During the flight, the radiosonde is exposed to temperatures as cold as -130oF and an air pressure less than 1 percent of what is found on the Earth’s surface.
- If the radiosonde enters a strong jet stream it can travel at speeds exceeding 250 mph
When released, the balloon is about 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) in diameter and gradually expands as it rises owing to the decrease in air pressure. When the balloon reaches a diameter of 6 to 8 meters (20 to 25 feet) in diameter, it bursts. A small, orange colored parachute slows the descent of the radiosonde, minimizing the danger to lives and property.
Ryan, Chelsea and Southwest Florida Christian students retrieved the waterlogged radiosonde (with it’s balloon and parachute) from the water just after seeing some see turtles mating at the surface. An exciting day and we all get to learn something new. The science never stops at MarineLab!
The research department has been busy the past few weeks. Whenever we have a lull in student groups (they are far and few between this time of year) MarineLab’s instructors are making the most of them. Just in the past two weeks we have been cruising Florida Bay collecting water samples to be analyzed by UM researchers for cyanobacteria, collecting and filtering samples from Tarpon Basin for a University of Florida program (with assistance from visiting students), surveying our (3!) seagrass sites in Largo Sound and entering data for Seagrass Watch scientists, and analyzing phytoplankton samples collected by 10 different local community members for a collaborative project with NOAA. Looking forward to getting out to our mangrove restoration site this Friday to check on the babies.
Does ghost fishing sound like a spooktacular good time? Watch this and think again!
Ghost fishing is actually a term that describes what happens when derelict fishing gear “continues to fish.” Derelict fishing gear, sometimes referred to as “ghost gear,” is any discarded, lost, or abandoned, fishing gear in the marine environment. This gear continues to fish and trap animals, entangle and potentially kill marine life, smother habitat, and act as a hazard to navigation. Derelict fishing gear, such as nets or traps and pots, is one of the main types of debris impacting the marine environment today.
If you have been to MarineLab during stone crab or lobster season, you have probably noticed your captain weaving around the trap buoys (though students often think we are just trying to take them on a crazy roller coaster of a ride). If not aware, running over and cutting a trap line is easy enough to do. That trap then becomes a ghost trap. Anything caught in the trap will starve to death. The traps can also harm the sea floor- seagrass, hardbottom, coral reef- as the traps move around. No sea creature is safe- the marine debris affects dolphins, sea turtles, fish and invertebrates. As you can imagine, derelict fishing gear is a huge problem in South Florida.
A MarineLab instructor from years past, Casey Boleman Butler, now works for Florida Fish and Wildlife as a lobster biologist and spends much of her time researching the effects of ghost fishing and finding ways to eradicate the problem. Casey created this video to better explain the issue.
In collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation, MarineLab staff outplanted 300 staghorn corals in August of 2014. We planted 30 colonies, 10 corals each with 5 different genotypes represented at our site. You can read about outplanting here.
We went and surveyed the site in Sept 2014, per CRF protocols. Due to the extreme warm water temperatures in the summer, many of our corals had bleached. Read about the results here.
The good news is many of our corals have recovered from the bleaching event! MarineLab staff ventured out to our outplanting site for the 6 month monitoring protocol. Coral bleaching tends to happen when corals are stressed, often the source of that stress is extreme water temperatures. While coral bleaching does not necessarily kill the coral automatically, if the coral does survive, these corals are more susceptible to diseases. We will continue to monitor our corals to help determine survival rate and provide data to determine if some genotypes are more resilient than others.
GENOTYPE K1 CLUSTER 8
GENOTYPE K1 CLUSTER C10
GENOTYPE U52 CLUSTER 4
GENOTYPE U52 CLUSTER 8
A recent study on reef-building corals growing on mangrove roots in St John, USVI, is giving us yet another reason to conserve and restore mangrove habitats.
We already know mangroves are important to coral reefs (if YOU don’t know why, you better read the Alert Diver article written by MRDF’s Director of Research, Sarah Egner: http://www.alertdiver.com/MangrovesAndSeagrass)
But now, the mangrove habitat could be coral’s saving grace in the climate change effects that some scientists are considering inevitable. Risk analyses indicate that more than 90% of the world’s reefs will be threatened by climate change and local anthropogenic impacts by the year 2030. Increasing temperatures and solar radiation cause coral bleaching and increasing CO2 levels reduces seawater pH (ocean acidification), slowing coral growth and impacting the integrity of the reef structure.
Amongst the mangroves of Hurricane Hole in St. John, USVI, researchers found more than 30 coral species. The older corals survived recent bleaching events that killed corals at nearby reefs, perhaps due to protection from the mangroves in the shade they provide. The corals found in the mangrove habitat may have also evolved to be more resistant to bleaching. Previous studies have shown that corals that become accustomed to environmental fluctuations, as is common in a mangrove habitat, have a higher survival rate in extreme heat. Perhaps these more resilient corals will be able to recolonize reefs in the future?
Just when I thought I couldn’t love mangroves any more…
Yates, K. K., Rogers, C. S., Herlan, J. J., Brooks, G. R., Smiley, N. A., and Larson, R. A.: Diverse coral communities in mangrove habitats suggest a novel refuge from climate change, Biogeosciences, 11, 4321-4337, doi:10.5194/bg-11-4321-2014, 2014.
MarineLab has had a partnership with the Coral Restoration for many years. We have sponsored restoration sites, created our own restoration sites, worked on an ongoing research project at a Molasses Reef restoration site and have logged hours underwater with coral transplant maintenance and monitoring. Recently, we are excited to assist CRF with maintenance of their nursery near Elbow Reef. It is an awesome opportunity for staff to get underwater, use their skills and get their hands “dirty.” The following are some photos from yesterdays dive at the nursery. MarineLab staff spent their dives scrubbing the “trees” to allow the coral babies to grow without the algal competition.
Why should we save our oceans? Why do we care about the coral reefs? There are plenty of reasons, but our oceans and the creatures in it could save your life one day. Eight approved drugs derived from marine chemicals are currently being used today to fight cancer, pain, viruses and inflammation. Another twelve chemicals are in clinical trials and we have only explored 5% of our oceans. Who knows what else is out there???
Visiting students to MarineLab tend to be most fearful of marine animals like sharks and barracuda. But, the animals that can’t move require the greatest of defenses—think sponges, tunicates, anemones, corals, etc. These organisms tend to use chemical defenses. The organisms evolved these chemicals naturally and use them to defend against predators, communicate with their neighbors or prevent encrusting species from growing over them. Some of these chemical compounds have already proven to be of use for the medical industry. Many more are yet to be discovered.
Cone snails hold their venom in a gland within a tooth. They can fire this tooth at prey like a harpoon. The smaller species produce a painful sting like a bee but larger ones can be fatal. Painkillers for humans have been created using conotoxins- the chains of amino acids found in the venom of cone snails. The cone snail painkillers could be 100-1000 times as effective as morphine. Scientists believe conotoxins could help treat epilepsy, depression and other disorders by interacting with the nervous system.
One of the first marine drugs discovered comes from a sponge that is native to Florida. Chemicals from the sponge were developed into the active component in a herpes medication. Another drug called Yondelis was derived from a sea squirt, also known as a tunicate. A Caribbean gorgonian (flexible coral) produces a group of compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, which are also used in an anti-wrinkle cream. Horseshoe crabs are commonly used to test for bacterial contamination. A Bryozoan species has a compound that is currently being tested as a cancer drug.
What if humans could regenerate lost limbs like a sea star? Scientists are currently studing echinoderms like sea stars and sea cucumber to see if this could be a possibility.
Many medical advances are thanks to our oceans. But there is much more to be discovered…