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

Whales and Carbon Sequestration: Can Whales Store Carbon?
Whales can help mitigate climate change impacts by storing carbon in their bodies and transporting nutrients that benefit ocean food chains.

The ocean captures about 31 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, removing carbon from the atmosphere that would otherwise continue to trap heat and increase temperatures. Blue carbon, or carbon captured by ocean ecosystems includes: Carbon absorbed by aquatic plants, algae, and phytoplankton; Carbon stored in the bodies of living animals; Carbon sequestered in deep-sea sediments. Read more


An Amazing 200 Million Year-Old Race
I SIT ON A LOG on a San Pancho beach of western Mexico’s Nayarit coast, watching. Soon, we’ve been told, there will be a release of sea turtles, but we don’t know quite where, so we observe the movement of humans on the beach—couples in beach chairs; groups of young, tattooed surfers smoking cigarettes and weed; a woman reading a book. An older man races by in a dune buggy with a woman beside him, and then returns a moment later without her, rousing a trio of short-legged mutts to chase after him, barking and chomping at the tires.


First Marine Fish Declared Extinct Due to Human Activity
A species of ray, so rare it has only ever been recorded once back in the late 1800s, has been declared extinct after an assessment by an international team led by Charles Darwin University (CDU). Read more


Romeo and Juliet, Two Elderly Manatees, Get a Happy Ending
For months, Romeo, a sexagenarian manatee, spent his days alone swimming in circles in a small tank at a Miami aquarium. Stuck in another tank was Juliet, also in her 60s, along with a third manatee. Read more


Florida Sees Record Year For Sea Turtles, But Climate Change Threatens Survival
Just as they have for millions of years, sea turtles by the thousands made their labored crawl from the ocean to U.S. beaches to lay their eggs over the past several months. This year, record nesting was found in Florida and elsewhere despite growing concern about threats from climate change. Read more


Sign Up Here to Receive the Monthly RCC Coasts and Ocean Observer and Other RCC newsletters, Information and Alerts.

Click here for Past Issues of the RCC Coasts and Ocean Observer

Click here for Previous Marine Life News