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

Finding Bright Spots in the Global Coral Reef Catastrophe
The first-ever report on the world’s coral reefs presents a grim picture, as losses mount due to global warming. But there are signs of hope — some regions are having coral growth, and researchers found that corals can recover if given a decade of reprieve from hot water. Read more


SC resident and fisherwoman want waterways, environment protected for future generations
When I was growing up, if you wanted to have seafood for dinner, you pulled out your fishing pole or your crab trap and headed down to the water. My grandfather raised me as a fisherwoman, teaching me to fish and catch trout from the nearby river. These days, if you get a notion to have fish for dinner, most people head down to the grocery store. Read more


Gary Griggs, Our Ocean Backyard | Otter and Pelican Populations Rebound
The announcement last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that 23 more species are now officially declared extinct was a sobering reminder of our collective human impacts on this diverse group of organisms. The list includes 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, a bat and a plant. Many of these were probably extinct, or close to it, when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. Read more


Restore manatees’ endangered status, says Nikki Fried
In a letter this week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called “misguided” the March 2017 decision to reclassify manatees as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried asked the federal government to again list threatened manatees as “endangered,” as Florida has had a record number of manatee deaths this year. Read more


Speaking in colors
A look at the prismatic body language of squid

When it comes to communicating our emotions, we humans have a lot of options. Particularly nonverbal ones. The moment we feel scared, territorial, excited, or yes, even smitten, we can say so with a limitless number of facial expressions, body language gestures, and eye gazes. Even emojis can do the trick. Squid, it turns out, have a lot of options, too. Read more


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