Archive for November, 2011

Marine Biologist of the Month – Lauren Johnson

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

At Sea Turtle Camp, we strive to integrate conservation principles into every aspect of our programs and daily lives. That is why we were so impressed with Lauren Johnson’s continued commitment to removing single use plastics from her family’s lives. As many of campers saw first hand at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, plastics have a devastating impact on our marine life, in particular sea turtles. And the problems that they create will be around for a long time, since plastics don’t biodegrade. Inspired by a talk from Bonnie Monteleone in our Marine Biology Immersion program, Lauren had opted to remove plastics from her life. Leading by example truly is such a powerful way to inspire others, and she has started with her family and friends in her own community. Learn more about Lauren as we feature her as our November Marine Biologist of the Month and join her in her efforts to eliminate single use plastics from our households.

Name: Lauren Johnson

Hometown: Chesapeake, VA

Grade: 8th

What is your favorite marine animal? Sea Turtle

What is your favorite movie? Finding Nemo!

What is your favorite food? Tacos!

What inspired your interest in marine biology? I have always been interested in animals and at one point I wanted to be a vet, but I  love  the ocean and last year I started looking into Marine Biology and after camp I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

What drew you to Sea Turtle Camp? I was looking at Marine Biology camps for the upcoming summer when I found Sea Turtle Camp and it looked so interesting and fun!

What is your favorite Sea Turtle Camp memory? My favorite Sea Turtle Camp memory well, that’s a hard one because I have so many, but I would have to say was getting to know everyone while we helped at the hospital. I also loved getting to brush the turtles back.

What kind of music are you listening to right now? Well right now I am listening to Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles, but in general I like Jack Johnson, Sarah McLaughlin, and Coldplay.

What hobbies or activities are you involved in? I am on a swim team, play soccer, in drama club, take piano lessons, and play the clarinet.

What current conservation projects are you involved with? Well I am starting with my own family. The slideshow we saw on plastic while we were at camp really inspired me, and I have been reading a blog by a women who lives on an almost entirely plastic free life. So I’ve been trying to convince my family to use less plastic and it is slowly working. For my sister’s birthday I got her glass straws, we use reusable bags at the grocery store, and I absolutely refuse to use plastic water bottles. I think it has been almost four months since I’ve used a plastic water bottle. My family has also been recycling so much more and even reusing. Instead of just throwing away plastic/glass containers we will use them over. I also try to pick up trash when I see it.

What would be your dream Sea Turtle Camp adventure? I would love to go scuba diving and to see sea turtles and other creatures in their natural habitat

What are your future aspirations? I hope to get accepted in a science and medical program and to go to college for Marine Biology and Environmental Science. I am also making a slide show to raise awareness on pollution and how it affects marine life.

What would you do to change the world? I would get rid of plastic bags and plastic water bottles. I would also help clean up the gyres in the oceans.

Spiny and Spectacular

Monday, November 28th, 2011

It sounds like a childhood riddle: What has no eyes, but sees with its whole body? However, the genetics and corresponding physiology of sea urchins are far from childish. Despite the species originating 540 million years ago, these echinoderms share many genes with us humans.

The question of sea urchin vision had long puzzled researchers. There were no visible eyes, but these creatures were obviously capable of reacting to changes in light levels. Recent advances in genetics, allowed scientists to look into the urchin genome, where they noted the presence of several genes associated with retina development. Despite having no eyes, urchins have a lot of the blueprints for eye proteins and photoreceptors. Researchers then traced the presence of opsin (a protein) to the tips and bases of the urchin’s tube feet where photoreceptors allow them to react to light or dark.

And eye genome sequencing is not the only DNA that we share with these spiny marine residents. Purple urchins have 7,000 genes in common with humans – including genes associated with muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s diseases. And while sea urchins don’t develop any acquired immunity, their innate immunity is far greater than humans with up to 20 times more genes devoted to their protection.

Sea urchins are exceptionally long lived, some living up to 100 years. This incredibly healthy immunity and their comparable DNA to humans, make these echinoderms vital organisms in answering many questions about these diseases and potentially providing cures. Further evidence that life in the ocean supports and sustains us on land.

Things To Be Thankful For

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Things that we are thankful for this past year:

Twenty-five turtles released in June.

Seven sea turtles released in September.

Over 100 nests on Topsail this summer.

Sand dunes that protect our coast and the sea turtle nests.

Salt marshes providing nursery habitats for lots of juvenile fish – including some that find their way to our dinner table.

Oyster and mussel beds that helped filter our waters.

A new 10,000 square foot facility with labs, surgery, and education rooms.

A radiograph machine allowing each turtle to be x-rayed for obstructions and foreign objects.

An incredible, caring group of volunteers that unselfishly give all that they have.

Interns that inspired and encouraged our students at the hospital.

A staff committed to sharing their passion for the marine world.

Campers interested in changing the world, one turtle at a time.

New programs, including the Costa Rican Ecology Camp.

Jean Beasley.

All our oceans.

Please let us know what else you are thankful for this season by posting on our Facebook wall.

Who are you calling a shrimp?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Life in the ocean can be tough – especially when you’re a shrimp. Not only are you tiny and tasty, but new research shows that competition between shrimp is often violent and brutal.

The Indo-Pacific and Red Sea host several cleaner shrimp that are known for their symbiotic relationship with fish. In return for a meal, the shrimp crawl over the fish removing dead skin and parasites. While the shrimp maintain a cordial relationship with their clients, they can be openly hostile towards members of their own species.

Cleaner shrimp usually live in monogamous pairs, but the battle to get down to 2 individuals can be quite fierce. Researchers recently tested the shrimp’s competitive nature and found that when more than 2 shrimp were in a tank, they would attack and kill until only a pair remained.

Shrimp, like most crustaceans, are at their most vulnerable right after they molt. The savvy competitor knows that this is the best time to strike the fatal blow to their opponent. It should come as no surprise then, that researchers found that when shrimp were kept in groups they would delay the molting process as long as possible. Whoever shed first was usually the first to go. However, once a harmonious pair was established, they would return to routine molting.

The most likely reason for this behavior is played out across the animal kingdom – competition for scarce resources. Food is a limiting factor in the ocean, and shrimp want to make sure that they have guaranteed access to it. This will also result in an increase in body size, and a corresponding increase in the number of eggs laid. Regardless of motivation, it is clearly a “shrimp eat shrimp” ocean out there.

Will new gear result in safer turtles?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

One of the greatest threats facing sea turtles is their deadly interactions with fishing gear. Any student who has volunteered at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital has seen this first hand. Two new gear devices, aimed at different fisheries, seek to minimize bycatch – allowing fishermen to maintain their livelihoods and sea turtles to maintain their lives.

The first gear change is a new, mandated scallop dredge on the East Coast from New England to North Carolina. Last month, the New England Fishery Management Council called for the implementation of dredges with fewer bars (to keep turtles from getting stuck) and a special deflection device (to keep them from getting into the nets). The changeover must take place by March 2013, though many scallop fishermen are not happy about it. They claim that the new dredges reduce their catch, force them to use more fuel, and are unnecessary since changes implemented five years ago already reduced their bycatch. And they’re expensive – at least $4,000 for a single dredge.

The other gear change is voluntary in nature. An Australian tuna fisherman, Hans Jusseit, has designed a new tuna hook for the longline fishery that comes with a shield to prevent turtles and seabirds from becoming inadvertently hooked and subsequently drowned. This shield of the “smart tunahook” guards the barb and bait until it falls below a certain depth, at which point the shield detaches and falls to the ocean floor. The designer claims that this shield will rust away within a year. The guarded hook only costs 20 cents, but since longline fishing fleets set thousands of hooks on each set, the cost and waste can certainly add up.

For years fishermen have been tracking the tasty treats of the ocean – shrimp, scallops, tuna, etc. – and resulting in billions of tons of bycatch, some of which are endangered and threatened species. While new gear and innovation are always appreciated, it may be time to simply turn down these tasty morsels, starting at your own table.

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