February 11, 2014
The babirusa may be one of the coolest and most bizarre animals around. But even those formidable tusks can’t protect it from poaching and deforestation.
January 2, 2014
Where do turtles nest? What species nest there? Are their eggs harvested by people and predators? Are they vulnerable to sea level rise? Marine biologist Rod Salm follows the tracks in the sand to answer these and other questions.
November 7, 2013
Remembering Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of evolution and conservation great, on the centennial of his passing.
October 8, 2013
Can a chainsaw be green? That may sound ridiculous, but in the forests of Borneo, loggers can be a critical ally in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change.
March 27, 2013
For a marine scientist, there is nothing like being on a boat. Your senses become alive, your creativity peaks. As you gaze over the side of a boat, the ocean mysteries you have been trying to solve suddenly come into focus.
But being on a boat is expensive. A recent article in the journal Science, “A Sea Change for Oceanography” by Eli Kintisch, clearly spells this out. Kintisch tells us that shrinking budgets and increasing costs are driving a change in how people study our oceans. A growing array of high tech devices that remotely collect information are being deployed and less days on sophisticated boats are spent at sea. The article suggests that this shift from field data collection programs to remote data collection programs is a change from “small” to “big” oceanography.
But what should “big” oceanography really be? Should the ability to connect to society’s needs be a part of “big” oceanography? If the answer is yes, I would say oceanography is failing. The good news is: there is still opportunity to redirect course.
Why has a field critical in describing the fabric of anything that has do to with oceans (how we use them, how we depend on them) failed in demonstrating its relevance beyond primary science? Perhaps it’s because oceans are still viewed—by oceanographers and the public—as one of the last great frontiers. Kintisch calls attention this in the Science article, concluding with a call for support of ocean studies “…comparable to [funding for] research in outer space…”
Indeed oceanic exploration has always generated tremendous media attention and public interest. But the ocean is much more than a last frontier. Our decisions around assigning priorities and allocating resources, the stories we share about the ocean should reflect this.
When the field started the ocean was mostly un-explored (and large sections of the ocean still are). The last frontier should and will continue to provide inspiration for years to come. But what about all the people that we now know live and depend on the ocean? Who solves their mysteries and the integral part that the ocean plays in solving their riddles?
March 7, 2013
This week has without a doubt been the highlight of my career as a marine conservationist. And, as someone who has had a long-term love affair with the world’s oceans, it’s been a life highlight as well.
On 20 February 2013, the Raja Ampat government officially announced that it has declared its entire 4 million hectares of coastal and marine waters a shark sanctuary.
This means that all harvesting of sharks is now prohibited in its waters. In addition, the sanctuary also gives full protection to a number ecologically and economically important ocean species, such as manta rays, dugongs, whales, turtles, dolphins and ornamental fish species.
Why is this important and why should we care?
Well, sharks have a really hard time in our oceans. Beyond the often over-amplified fear people have of sharks, they are also targeted for their high-priced fins or are caught accidently in fishing nets.
It is estimated that at least 26-73 million sharks are killed each year globally, mostly for their fins. Shark finning is one of the cruelest practices around—it involves throwing a still-breathing shark overboard with its fins cut off and its body bleeding into the water.
January 31, 2013
In July, I introduced via The Nature Conservancy’s photo of the month what may then have been the world’s largest living table coral (pictured above).
I found it on a reef in Nusa Laut, Indonesia. I also indicated that the coral felt like an old friend to me and that I would develop a knot in my stomach on visiting the reef in anticipation of finding my “old friend” dead or damaged.
Table corals are not as long lived as some of their massive boulder forming community members.
The reason is that table corals grow by dividing horizontally away from the center after reaching a certain thickness.
The central polyps stop dividing vertically and eventually get old and die from natural senescence. The center of any very large table coral colony usually is dead.
Massive corals on the other hand, like some we’ve seen in our Indo-Pacific seas, may be hundreds to over a thousand years old.
These corals grow by dividing vertically and thus are constantly renewing themselves as they grow upwards and outwards.
Table corals are also vulnerable to toppling by storm surges and breakage of their narrow pedestals when shaken by earthquakes and tremors in seismically active areas like those in the West Pacific and Coral Triangle.
How these corals respond to the stress of being shaken and toppled is a great indicator of their resilience. Some simply give up and die. Other more resilient ones seem to shrug off the stress and reorient their plane of growth, contributing dramatic new architecture to the reef community.
I exhorted friends who visited the Nusa Laut reef in November last year to measure the majestic table coral precisely and report on its well-being.
The news wasn’t good.