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MarineBio Newsletter 1


Research in Marine Science

Archaea Harvard study on the impact of carbon emissions have on microbial organisms in the deep sea

Scientists at Harvard's department of Earth and Planetary Sciences are studying the function of archaea, single-celled microscopic organisms found in the deep sea described as distant cousins of bacteria. These microorganisms constitute a large percentage of the ocean's biomass and may play a role in global carbon distribution. Although archaea were not discovered until the late 1970s, they were added as the third branch of life due to their abundance in the ecosystem. The other two are eukaryota, which includes plants and animals, and bacteria. There are three main groups of archaea: the methanogens (those that like produce methane gas in swamps and digestive tracts), the extreme halophiles (those that can tolerate super high salt concentrations such as the salt lakes) and the extreme thermophiles (those that can stand very high temperatures like those found at deep sea hydrothermal vents and hot sulfur springs like those in Yellowstone National Park). Source: Harvard Gazette - read more...

In the News

Coral reefs in Indonesia reveal astonishing biodiversity

Scientists recently described the biodiversity on a remote archipelago in the Malacca Sea as "mind-boggling". A survey of the reef system sponsored by Conservation International identified more than 1,000 fish species, 600 mollusk species, and 450 different species of coral. This high level of diversity is unusual and may be explained by the archipelago's location at the cross roads of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The abundance of life on the reef may also be a result of the cooler waters found in the area which protect the reefs from bleaching. Source: BBC Online - read more...

Twelve new species identified on coral reef in Indian Ocean

Click to visit Conservation InternationalDuring another survey sponsored by Conservation International, 12 new species of coral and fish were identified on a reef off the coast of Madagascar in a previously unexplored section of the Indian Ocean. The survey was sponsored to help manage local natural resources and prevent over fishing. A majority of the residents in the area make their living from fishing, along with migrant fishermen who also target the area. At least 55 reef species are fished, and the local fishermen have expressed concern over declines in both the size and stock of fish. The survey team discussed the situation residents in 15 villages and their village leaders to gain their participation in managing local resources.

This survey was conducted using Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), which provides a quick analysis providing the biological data needed to implement conservation interventions where they are needed. Source: Conservation International

Accidental spread of marine biodiversity may have negative environmental consequences

Brittlestars, Ophiactis savignyi, collecting on ships may be altering the genetic makeup of similar species from other parts of the world by mixing isolated populations. Brittlestars in the Atlantic Ocean that were once of a single population have now been divided into two groups, one descending from brittlestars in the Atlantic and one descending from species found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Human-aided dispersal of non-native species can have a negative impact on local ecosystems. Lampreys and Zebra Mussels damaged fisheries in the Great Lakes, and Nile Perch and Water Hyacinth disrupted the ecology of Lake Victoria in Kenya.

Improvements to marine paint and faster moving ships have been developed, which may prevent further damage caused by interbreeding of species, however a wide variety of marine animals continue to stowaway on seagoing ships.

Humans releasing home aquarium animals and plants into the environment also introduce non-native species. This creates problems such as competition with native species for food and habitat, introduction of new diseases and parasites, and cross breeding of species. Often, pets released into the wild do not survive because they are unable to cope with their new environment to find food or adjust to extreme temperature fluctuations. Sources: Science Daily Magazine, Smithsonian Institution

Issues in Marine Conservation

Click to visit The Coral Reef AllianceCoral Reefs in Trouble
Coral reefs are often referred to as the rainforests of the sea because they support extraordinary biological diversity. Coral reefs take hundreds of years to fully develop. Their conservation is becoming an increasingly important issue as they face degradation by human activities and climate change. Reefs support the habitat for thousands of marine plant and animal species. They also support the livelihoods of people living near the coast who depend on fishing or tourism to make a living. Coral reefs can also provide a barrier to the open sea that protects beaches from erosion.

Two-thirds of the world's coral reefs are dying, and already at least 10% of those have been damaged beyond repair. A variety of factors threaten coral reefs. Pollutants such as human and animal waste, industrial byproducts, fertilizer, and other chemicals are either dumped directly into the ocean or carried by rivers. These products cause algae to overgrow, which smothers the reef by blocking sunlight, which is vital to a healthy reef.

Land development and construction in coastal areas or near coastal rivers create sediment, which settles on the reef also blocking sunlight. Mangroves and sea grass provide a filter for sediment to settle before it reaches coral reefs, therefore the removal or destruction of these plants causes more sediment to settle on the reef. Growing populations in coastal regions have introduced infectious organisms to coral reefs. Acropora coral in the Caribbean Sea is infected with white band disease, which is caused by a bacterial relative of cholera. Mass mortality among gorgonians, the coral family that includes sea fans, has occurred due to a soil bacterium.

Researchers are now studying the health of coral reefs on a global scale by mapping them to identify problem areas - similar to the way human epidemics are studied. What they find will provide the information needed to quickly address the situation and will reveal clues on the extent of damage done to larger ecosystems resulting from development of coastal regions and degradation of coral reefs.

Many fishing practices are detrimental to coral reef health. In some cases cyanide is injected into the reef to stun fish out of crevices making them easier to catch. Coral has been destroyed by dynamite used for fishing. When these areas are over fished, species are unable to regenerate to sustainable populations and the food chain is disrupted causing additional problems.

One of the worst threats to coral reefs is also one of the easiest to prevent. Reefs are popular tourist destinations and human interference with the reefs can be harmful. Careless boaters, snorkelers, and divers who crash into, walk on, or even touch the coral contribute to its destruction. Many diving organizations are addressing this issue by raising awareness and educating divers in the impact humans can have on reef systems.

Global warming is another serious threat that, unfortunately, is not as easily addressed. As levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase, surface temperatures of the ocean are rising. Corals react to the increase in temperature by expelling the algae needed to sustain their energy and health. Algae creates the color of coral and therefore bleaching occurs when the algae is expelled. It is possible for coral to recover from bleaching, however, in most cases bleached colonies of coral die. Carbon dioxide in the water also causes damage to the skeletons of corals. In addition to global warming, depletion of the ozone layer may be contributing to the decline of coral reef health. Like humans, too much ultraviolet radiation causes damage to coral reefs found in shallow waters easily penetrated by sunlight.

Many initiatives have been developed to help save coral reefs. In 1998 President Clinton issued an Executive Order to protect and restore coral reef systems in the U.S. resulting in the formation of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. Since then, the Task Force has established 13 action steps focused on raising awareness and reducing damage caused by human activity.

There are also many national and international private organizations working on coral reef preservation such as Conservation International, World Resources Institute, and the Sierra Club; and many academic institutions have joined the fight as well. References: Read more at, Read more at NOAA...

Featured Conservation Organization

Click to visit MCIThe Marine Conservation Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing science and education together to raise awareness for the protection of the world's marine resources. Their philosophy is that science must continually monitor the status of the oceans and identify the issues of critical importance and what must be done to address them. Then, others in the marine science community, marine conservation partners and collaborators, local and federal governments can begin to promote changes that will protect the seas. MCI believes in the importance of building a solid foundation with the knowledge necessary to protect marine resources, and, taking it a step further, they then believe in applying that knowledge to ensure that recommendations are acted upon.

The organization is currently working on a number of important issues including:

In the past the organization has succeeded in:

For more on MCI, visit their website:

Ask MarineBio

Why do some fish swim alongside sharks and why don't the sharks eat them?

Sharks and other marine animals carry parasites on their skin, especially in gill areas and in their mouths. "Cleaners" are small fish, gobies, remoras, or shrimp that feed on parasites and other organic matter found on marine animals. Some cleaners occupy cleaning stations found near coral reefs that animals visit when the need to be cleaned.

Studies have shown that some cleaner fish may be aware that their hosts are capable of eating them. The commonly stroke their hosts with their fins as if to remind predators of their symbiotic relationship. Occasionally cleaner fish get a little too enthusiastic when feeding and their nibble becomes a bite causing their host to flee. Stroking behavior has been observed when the cleaner fish return to the same host for a second meal - as if to apologize. Source: Read more at

The fish commonly observed swimming with sharks are cleaner fish called remoras or sharksuckers of the family Echeneididae. These fish actually attach themselves to their host using a flat oval disk found on top of their head. Different species of remoras prefer different species of large marine animals such as whalesuckers and marlinsuckers.

One reason you see sharksuckers and other fish swimming among sharks without being harmed is that sharks only feed when they are hungry. But also, sharks need to have their parasites removed, and therefore they generally leave sharksuckers alone—even when they're hungry. Sharks will, however, roll around on the bottom or jump out of the water to dislodge sharksuckers when the cleaners attach themselves to a sensitive part of the shark's skin.

If you have a question for the marine biologist, please send it to us at:

For Young Marine Scientists

Click to visit in a new windowOne of the best ways to learn more about Marine Biology and Marine Conservation is to get involved with an organization as a volunteer to clean up beaches or coral reefs, and some scientists use volunteers to help with marine research projects. These volunteer opportunities provide an excellent way to learn more about a marine topic of interest.

It may be difficult to figure out how to become a Marine Biologist. Some answers for all ages can be found in this article: Click here >>

Helpful links to volunteer organizations:


Beginning of a New Reef for the Keys - upside down
On May 17 the Spiegel Grove, a retired US Navy transport ship formerly used to ferry military vehicles was scheduled to be sunk in 130 feet of water about 5 ½ miles off the coast of Key Largo. Much to the surprise of the project's managers, the ship sank about four hours early and landed upside down. Attempts to right the ship using a tugboat failed, and project leaders are now trying to find a solution.

Right side up, the ship will form the skeleton for a coral reef system 510 feet long, 90 feet wide and extending 84 feet from the bottom. This is the largest ship ever sunk to cultivate an artificial coral reef and dive attraction.

Members of The Upper Keys Coral Reef Association have been working since 1995 raising money and overseeing logistics for the Spiegel Grove project. The final budget for the project exceeded one million dollars and involved a great deal of work to arrange for the ships cleanup and transportation to the Keys.

After it was decommissioned in 1989, the Spiegel Grove was docked in Virginia where it remained until May 8 2002 when it was transported by tugboats to Key Largo arriving May 14, 2002. To comply with EPA requirements the ship was cleaned of all contaminants such as fuel, paint, and metals.

Originally, plans were to sink the ship slowly using small explosive devices. Hundreds of observers were expected at the site to witness the sinking. Reference:

Species of the Month

Harlequin Shrimp Hymenocera pictaHarlequin Shrimp, Hymenocera picta

Harlequin shrimp are like clowns of the sea. Not only do they look funny, they only feed on starfish and to watch them drag a starfish is like watching a circus act. In fact, they are sometimes called simply Clown Shrimp for that reason.

World Range and Habitat:
Harlequin Shrimp are found in the Central Pacific Ocean below the intertidal zone on the deep side of the reefs. Encounters with these shrimp are rare. They are rarely seen on any reef and when they are they are usually tucked into crevices in male-female pairs.

Feeding Behavior:
Harlequin shrimp subsist solely on a diet of starfish. Using their petal like antennae, the pick up the scent of their prey. Then, using their unique paddle like pincers, they usually work as a team to flip the starfish onto its back piercing the skeleton using specialized mouthparts to get to the soft tissue. The shrimp cleverly keep their prey alive while feeding by beginning with the tip of the arm working towards the central portion of the starfish's body. The starfish's only defense is to abandon the arm on which the shrimp is feeding.

Harlequin shrimp reproduce sexually with females releasing 100-5,000 eggs per season.

These shrimp are found in mated pairs that remain together for long periods of time. In many animal species, especially in mammals, the male will mate with many females to spread his DNA to as many offspring as possible. Male Harlequin shrimp however remain monogamous with their mate because receptive females are scarce in Harlequin shrimp populations, and left alone, it is likely the female would quickly find a new mate.

Family Gnathophyllidae | Genus Hymenocera | Species picta

We hope you found this month's MarineBio Newsletter interesting. Click around for more species, more research and more Marine Biology News. As always, we welcome all feedback.

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