Marine Life


U.S. National Park Service (USNPS)

The dazzling vibrancy of coral reefs, the fleeting streaks of color as shorebirds alight, flying up and above the waves, the sight of young sea turtles flecked with granules of sand, clambering for open ocean, the bioluminescence of extraordinary organisms churning in deep sea; When we catch glimpses of the myriad life dotting the ocean’s blue expanse, we are often struck by its beauty. But marine life is not only vibrant; it is vital.

Wipeter/CC BY-SA

So much as the visible compels us, it is the invisible that sustains us. Marine microbes, which drive carbon sequestration in the oceans, comprise more than 98% of ocean biomass. Floating in delicate glass walls of Silica, diatoms, a type of phytoplankton, produce one fifth of the air we breathe. Collectively, phytoplankton are responsible for every other breath we take. These tiny organisms also form the basis of marine foods webs that support Earth’s largest animal, the blue whale.

U.S. National Park Service (USNPS)

Kendall Jeffrys

Larger species also support marine ecosystems. Green sea turtles, for example, foster healthy seagrass meadows and coral reefs, critical habitats for commercial fish species that billions depend upon for their livelihoods or food security. Whales act as ecosystem engineers, recycling nutrients and increasing ocean productivity. As top predators, sharks are good indicators of ocean health and keep marine food webs in balance. These are just a few examples of the roles marine species play on the greater stage of life.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Federal protection of endangered species has allowed some marine life to come back from dramatic declines: 77% of marine mammals and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act are recovering in population size. In 2016, humpback whales had recovered so much that most populations were taken off the endangered species list. Marine mammals not listed as endangered are still protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Despite recovery of some species, many forms of life, such as shore birds, are still facing rapid decline. A confluence of climatic threats to the ocean pushes marine life to a precarious existence. The ocean is 30% more acidic than it was before industrialization. As the ocean absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, it forms carbonic acid which dissolves calcium carbonate structures of corals, mussels, clams, oysters, and starfish. The ocean is not only acidifying but also gasping for air: over the past 50 years, the volume of ocean with no oxygen has quadrupled. Oxygen is consumed by algal blooms spurred by warming temperatures and nutrient overload from sewage and agricultural run-off spilling from land into our seas.
We come from life in the ocean — the chemistry of our bodies is testament to that past. As Rachel Carson wrote in The Sea Around Us,

“Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal — each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water.”

The makeup of our atoms is not unlike that of the sea. Without ever splashing our feet into its salty waters, we all connect to the ocean in this way.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

Some may know the ocean personally, some may know it through photos, art, or the work of marine scientists such as Rachel Carson, whose book Under the Sea-Wind transforms an imagination of ocean life into a vivid reality. The RCC seeks to continue to bring the ocean to life, highlighting our interconnectedness with the sea and our need to protect it.

Latest News About
Marine Life

Toxic algae bloom on Florida’s coast ravages marine life: “This is an absolute nightmare”
Tampa Bay, Florida — Beaches near Tampa have been littered with dead sea creatures, killed by a massive algae bloom that marine scientists say has been worsened by pollution.

Tyler Capella, who runs a fishing charter business, took CBS News out on Tampa Bay to see what he calls his nightmare. Dead fish are everywhere, killed by a red tide that has turned Tampa Bay toxic.

“This just goes forever,” Capella said. “It’s devastating. My worst fears have come true. I mean, this is an absolute nightmare.” Read more

Red Tide adds urgency to Clearwater Marine Aquarium manatee rehab center
Bracing for an influx of animal patients, the aquarium sped up plans for a center to nurse distressed manatees back to health.

TARPON SPRINGS — Clearwater Marine Aquarium already had plans to build a manatee rehab center, but Red Tide and the alarming number of manatee deaths on Florida’s east coast made the need more urgent, officials said in a press conference Wednesday. Read more

Slow down to give these endangered whales a chance
When I see cars speeding in my neighborhood, it makes my blood boil. I’ve got kids here. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that often because speeding is against the law and the threat of a fine tends to keep most people in check.

But what if drivers knew they wouldn’t be pulled over for speeding? Or if there were no fines at all? What if those speed limits that keep your children safe were simply suggestions? Most of us would worry far more about our children’s safety. More cars would likely speed more often and, at some point, avoidable tragedies would strike. Read more

Coral reefs prevent more than $1.8 billion a year in U.S. flood damage
But climate change and habitat destruction threaten reefs and their ability to offer this protection.

Coral reefs provide a home to so many different creatures that they’re sometimes called “rainforests of the sea.” And near the shore, they help absorb wave energy. So as extreme storms grow more common, coral reefs help protect coastal communities from flooding and storm surge.

“Coral reefs provide critical coastal protection benefits,” says Borja Reguero of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Read more

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