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

Opinion: Manatees are starving in Florida. Pollution is the likely culprit.
Manatees are an iconic mammal species in the Florida Everglades and surrounding rivers and estuaries. Their large, round bodies with protruding flippers and huge heads give them an adorable cartoonish appearance that has wide appeal. Thanks to multiple conservation laws, manatee populations have expanded, from 1,300 in the 1990s to more than 6,000 today. Read more


An Entire Group of Whales Has Somehow Escaped Human Attention
The only way to give them the space they need might be to seek them out.

The marine biologist Jay Barlow likes to say that he went looking for the last of the Ice Age mastodons and instead bumped into a unicorn. It’s a land-based metaphor to help us, a landlubbing species, make sense of what he witnessed late last year, though in fact the mystery unfolded entirely out of sight of land. Read more at The Atlantic


In the Pacific, Global Warming Disrupted The Ecological Dance of Urchins, Sea Stars And Kelp. Otters Help Restore Balance.
When ocean heat waves and a sea star disease devastated kelp forests that are critical to sea life and the California urchin fishing industry, sea otters came to the rescue.

Watching marine life, from otters to wetsuit-clad surfers, frolic in the famously cold water off the coast of Santa Cruz, it’s hard to imagine the devastation that warming water has wreaked just beneath the waves. In central and Northern California, a massive ocean heat wave in 2014 and 2015 set off a cascade of events that killed huge underwater kelp forests, in some areas replacing the dense algal jungles with “urchin barrens.” Read more at Inside Climate News


Spike in Florida Manatee Deaths Linked to Human Activity, Loss of Food Sources
The first few months of 2021 have been extremely deadly for manatees as food sources in Florida have become increasingly limited, scientists say.

In the first six weeks of the new year, 317 manatee deaths were reported across Florida, CBSMiami reported. Since then, that number has risen to at least 432 deaths — about three times the normal amount of deaths in the state by this time of year, The Weather Channel reported. The five-year average for manatee deaths is 578. Read more at EcoWatch


NC’s Crustaceans, Shellfish Make A Big Splash
North Carolina is home to numerous species of crustaceans and shellfish, in many shapes, sizes and colors.  This is our first installment in an in-depth look at some of the more popular and interesting animals in this category that call coastal North Carolina home.

Crustaceans and shellfish do not put up a fight to catch them like most fish species. You do not need an expensive rod, reel or lures and most of them stay in the same location year-round and do not leave North Carolina waters. Read more at Coastal Review


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