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

Underwater Robot Deployed to Aid Endangered Right Whales
With spring well underway, the North Atlantic right whales that migrated to Georgia to give birth here over the winter have migrated back north to their feeding grounds off New England and Canada. Researchers know from aerial surveys that at least 16 calves were born in the 2022-23 season.

But scientists don’t just look for whales, they listen for them, too. And this year they added an underwater robot to the listening platforms in Georgia. Read more

Photography for the Ocean – in Pictures
Founded by Paul Nicklen, Cristina Mittermeier and Chase Teron, 100 for the Ocean unites 100 world-class photographers selected for their talents and contributions to conservation. Until 31 May 2023, photographs are on sale with profits going to under-funded and under-recognised ocean-focused NGOs voted for by photographers. The top-voted NGOs so far include: Whale Guardians, Coast First Nations, and Por el Mar. Read more

Light Pollution is Messing With Coral Reproduction
More than 7 million square miles of coastal ocean are possibly affected by increasingly common nighttime lights.

A dark side effect of the electricity that helps society run around the clock is the pollution caused by our increasing numbers of lights at night. Light pollution can obscure stargazing, confusing sea turtles when they hatch, and also could be harming coral reefs. Read more

Massachusetts Turtles Released on NC Beach: A Photo Essay
Ten loggerhead sea turtles touched down at Michael J. Smith Field in Beaufort Monday, May 1, ahead of their release back into the Atlantic Ocean.

The loggerheads were rehabilitating at the Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri, after being cold-stunned in early January near Cape Cod. The New England Aquarium in Boston transported the turtles to the nonprofit aquarium in Missouri. Read more

Is it Best to Protect Whale Habitat Where it Once Was, or Where it is Now?
Scientists discover that today’s sperm whale habitat is shaped by the ghost of human hunting, hinting at the peril of ignoring the past when working to change the planet’s future.

Scientists of all sorts struggle to resurrect the past. Archaeologists create portraits of ancient societies from bits of pottery, coins and the remains of buildings. Paleontologists piece together the lives of dinosaurs from isolated fossils, a tiny sliver of the life that once roamed the earth. Read more

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