Archive for the ‘Marine Science’ Category

From Ocean to Sound

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

moleThe coast of North Carolina is protected by a string of barrier islands. These islands support distinct and varied ecosystem in the few hundred yards separating the crashing waves of the ocean to the calm tides of the sound.

In the few feet that encompass waves breaking onto the shore an entire ecosystem exists. This is where beach are made! In the surf zone wave power shifts the sands. Shells are plentiful as they continue to degrade. Once living creatures, these skeletons erode with each wave that drags them across the bottom – contributing to the volume of sand on the beach. Mole crabs call this area home and these tiny filter-feeding crustaceans are key to the coastal food chain. Many migratory marine birds and fish depend on these tiny burrowing animals as a main source of food.

seaoat11-300x199Sand dunes act as the anchors and builders on the ocean side of a barrier island. The vegetation helps secure the loose sand blown along shore by winds gust. Dunes can take years to build, but the wave energy of one storm can wipe them out. A prime example of how these islands are in a constant state of destruction and reconstruction.

treeJust past the dune and a little more inland you will often find a marine forest. A twist of salt sprayed branched distinguishes this area from the surrounding island. The constant assault of offshore winds and briny air bend and stunts the trees on the ocean side. This is the area containing the most abundant terrestrial plant and animal life, because the tree cover offers more protection from the elements.

slatmarshThe island dips back into the ocean on the sound side. Tall marsh grass and calm currents define the nursery habitat found on the backside of a barrier island. Mud and silt from depositing river deltas becomes trapped by plant roots providing a nutrient rich habitat for juvenile marine species that depend on these protected water for development.


Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

albarossMarine birds have generally evolved to survive and feed near the sea. Though the name suggests a life at sea many species spend a good portion of their life hundreds if not thousands of miles inland. Nesting grounds can be far from the coast with birds traveling to seek food.

blue-footed-booby-profileThere is no generalization that encompasses all types of sea dependent birds, but in general seabirds expel a large amount of energy on raising their young, of which they have fewer than most terrestrial birds. Due to the excess amount of care required to insure the survival of their offspring both parents typically participate in caring for the young. Parental pairs can be monogamous for a season or a lifetime depending on the species.

Another characteristic that often set seabirds apart is the vast migration a few species undertake between feeding, breeding, and nesting grounds – some seabird are even capable of circumnavigating the globe!

Dpenguinsepending on a species individual feeding habits most have developed adaptations which equip them for a life at sea. Diving birds typical have shorter wings and denser feathers -while the heavy migrators, such as the albatross, depend on gliding to conserve energy during flight. Webbed feet and Waterproof plumage are very common as with most aquatic birds they help in propulsion and body heat retention both above and below the water. Slat glands are exhibited in most species to handle the excess salt consumer when eating and drinking at sea.

Marine Arthropods

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

DesktopBoth crabs and crustaceans are of the phylum Arthropoda. In fact Arthropoda encompasses almost 75% of all animals’ on this earth.

By definition arthropods are invertebrates, meaning they lack a backbone. Arthropods are characterized by segmented bodies, jointed legs, and a hard exoskeleton. The land forms of arthropods include scorpions, spiders, and most insects while the marine forms are divided into three distinct groups – Horseshoe crabs, Sea Spiders, and Crustaceans.

Crustaceans include barnacles, shrimp, lobster, mole crabs, and true crabs. A few defining characteristic of crustaceans include their ability to molt (shed their shell), Metamorphoses (change body form during life stages), and regenerate (regrow lost limbs).

spinylobster2Blue crabs, stone crabs, and fiddler crabs are just a few examples of true crabs and are characterized by a short tail that is folded under the body.

Barnacles are small volcano-shaped animals that are sessile in adult form and therefore must utilize filter feeding. Mole crabs are small egg-shaped animals that inhabit the swash zone. They are an important link in the ocean food chain as numerous animals feed upon them. Shrimp and lobster appear to have a similar body form with the abdomen (tail) stretched out behind them.

horseHorseshoe crabs are one of the oldest known living species of animals on earth, it is believed that the lived in the ocean more than 600 million year ago.  Horseshoe crabs are so old they are in a class of their own. Though menacing in appearance they are actually rather docile.

Into the Unknown

Friday, April 5th, 2013

GALAXYWhether it be the far reaches of the starry galaxy or the inky blue of the ocean abyss for centuries the neighboring unknown has sparked fascination within every generation. Maybe it is because our bordering environments seem so close, yet so foreign.

Space and sea literally touch our world, yet we cannot survive within them. It is our desire to explore places so different from our own that it has driven the human population to push technology to its limits. There is a shroud of mystery surrounding both the oceans vast depths and the possibilities of deep space. Billions have been invested into expanding our knowledge and understanding of our unfamiliar neighbors, allowing us to fly a little farther and swim a little deeper.


It is said that we know more about the surface of the moon then we do about our own ocean. But how could this be? We have only visited the moon a handful of times while modern humans have depended on the ocean for the last 200,000 years.

Well, the moon resides on average 238,857 miles away from earth, and is locked in an endless orbit. Surface temperatures are extreme (-233 Celsius at night, and 123 Celsius during the day) resulting in a barren habitat seemingly uniform and void of life. The moon simply lacks the biological diversity that blankets the earth.

The ocean, on the other hand, encompasses some 139.4 million square miles, is almost 7 miles deep, with pressures reaching to 15,750 psi (over one thousand times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level). It is one of the planets most diverse biomes containing an array of inhabitants. Some 250,000 (2010 Marine Census) known organisms call the sea home and according to most scientists it’s still teeming with undiscovered species.

therma vent

Anyone can explore the deep blue rather easily (well at least for the first 130 feet). A simple SCUBA diving certification will allow you to swim with the dolphins, sea turtles, and whales. Divers don a wetsuit, fins, and snorkel; they strap on a tank full of compressed mixed gasses and slowly descend into a fish eye view of the world.

Deep ocean exploration takes a little more advanced equipment. No more than an astronaut could survive the zero gravity and oxygen lacking environment of space without a special space suit could a human survive the crushing pressure of the lightless deep.


Therefore, scientific researchers often employ the help of remote and manned mini-submarines such as Alvin (DSV-2) for those hard to reach places. Alvin carries 3 people, has explored depths op to 14,800 feet, and is well known for investigating the infamous wreckage of the RMS Titanic in 1986.

Want to learn more about breathing underwater?

Tune in soon to discover more about the world of SCUBA diving!

Ocean of Light

Friday, February 1st, 2013



Bioluminescence is defined as the production and emission of light by living organisms. It is often referred to as “cold light” as the reaction will produce a visual light but rarely generates any thermal radiation. The light is a form of natural energy released by chemical reactions within the organism. This ability to produce light without producing heat protects the organisms from literally burning u (ever touched a light bulb?!). This phenomenon is exhibited in marine vertebrates, invertebrates,fungi, microorganisms, and terrestrial animals. A terrestrial example that we are all probably familiar with is the firefly or lightening bug.

Fireflies contain specialized cell in their abdomen that contain a chemical called luciferin – this is also where an enzyme know as luciferase originates. Both of these are essential to light production.

The luciferin will coalesce with adenosine triphosphate (aka the ATP which is found in all cells) to form luciferyl adenylate and pyrophosphate (PPi) on the surface of the luciferase enzyme.

luciferin + ATP ————-> luciferyl adenylate + PPi

Oxygen than interacts with the luciferyl adenylate to produce oxyluciferin and adenosine monophosphate (AMP).

uciferyl adenylate + O2 ————-> oxyluciferin +AMP + light

Light results from the oxyluciferin and AMP being released from the enzyme’s exterior surface. Fireflies typically give off wavelengths of light between 510 and 670 nanometers which produces a soft yellow to reddish green color.

Bioluminescence is uncommon in terrestrial animals, conversely ninety percent of known deep-sea marine life bioluminesce. The majority of marine organisms that bioluminesce emit blue or green because those particular wavelengths transmit throughseawater more clearly than other colors.

1anglerBioluminescence has several functions depending on the species. Mimicry, mating, distraction, repulsion, communication, and illumination are the most common ways bioluminescence is utilized in the animal kingdom. The deep sea angler fish uses a glowing lure to attract prey, fireflies and ostracods (small crustaceans that resemble shrimp) depend on it to initiate mating, while some squid species can expel a cloud of bioluminescent material to confuse potential predators long enough to escape.

There are numerous and varied marine species that employ the use of bioluminescence to survive, but for most of us on dry land running across these glowing creatures of the deep in unlikely. Fortunately for those interested in experiencing an ocean alight (and aren’t necessarily willing dive into the deep) there is one tiny organism that is known for putting on a pretty grand display.


Marine plankton known as dinoflagellates sometimes give off an eerie dull glow and often a flash of green light when they are disturbed. Dinoflagellates are commonly found in surface waters, but rarely in the high concentrations as displayed in Bahia Fosforescente, Puerto Rico where a single paddle stroke can set off an underwater fireworks show. Though scientists aren’t exactly sure why dinoflagellates glow, most suspect it has to do with predation and it iscertainly a sight to behold.

So remember, the next time you are walking along a peaceful beach at night and the entire ocean seems to be romantically aglow it all because of some slightly agitated microorganisms.


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