MarineBio Newsletter 9
MarineBio is pleased to bring you the 9th edition of our newsletter! We welcome your feedback on its content and would love to hear what you're interested in reading! Send your comments to: Joni Lawrence, Editor
- New Director of Elasmobranchs (Sharks and Rays) :: We're delighted to announce that R. Aidan Martin, M.S. has joined MarineBio as our Director of Elasmobranchs. Aidan is the Director of the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research, a Research Associate of the Zoology Department of the University of British Columbia, an Adjunct Professor of the Oceanographic Center of Nova Southeastern University, and Conservation Science Institute fellow.
- He is internationally recognized as an expert in shark biology and behavior and has studied elasmobranch fishes (sharks and rays) for over 30 years in some 40 countries and/or island states. His main areas of research are the evolution, phyletic relationships, functional morphology, life history, behavioral ecology, distribution, and conservation of elasmobranchs. Specific research projects include:
- Predatory and social behavior of White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) at Seal Island, South Africa
- Life history, ecology, and behavior of Blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) at North Male Atoll, Maldives
- Body language and social organization of tropical Indo-Pacific reef sharks
- Shark and ray ecotourism and marine protected areas as mechanisms for elasmobranch conservation
- Foraging ecology of Dasyatid stingrays at North Male’ Atoll, Maldives
- Application of knowledge of shark behavior toward reduction of bycatch in commercial fisheries and "attacks" on humans
- Ecology and conservation of sharks in Panama...
A prolific writer and illustrator, Aidan has published more than 20 scientific articles, 130 popular articles, and four books. He has also organized international scientific symposia on the biology of deep-sea cartilaginous fishes and the biology and conservation of freshwater elasmobranchs.
Aidan is much sought after as a public speaker and television presenter. He's also an avid diver with more than 14,000 hours bottom-time logged in the ocean with some 90 species of sharks and rays.
He is an active member of the American Elasmobranch Society, the Shark Research Institute, the Shark Research Committee, the Physiology Section of the American Fisheries Society, the Eco-Tourism Society, the National Writer's Union, Professional Association of Diving Instructors, British Columbia Underwater Council, and the National Association of Marine Educators.
Please join us in welcoming Aidan to MarineBio!
- new online shop where you can help support MarineBio by purchasing books, DVDs, magazines, etc. through Amazon.com. Much of the content on MarineBio contains information gathered from the items in our shop. By purchasing these products, you receive the same price as you would on Amazon, and 4% of the proceeds will go to MarineBio. If you would like to suggest a magazine, book, or DVD please let us know. We hope you enjoy the new shop and we encourage you to do all of your holiday shopping through the MarineBio Shop!
- MarineBio is pleased to bring you MORE wonderful underwater videos on the downloads page featuring footage captured during our expedition to Indonesia.
- Marine Life pages: There is a new introductory section in Marine Life on marine mammals. As with all content on MarineBio, these sections are always evolving and we welcome all feedback.
- Ways you can help page updated with 100 things you can do to protect the ocean.
- Thank you! We'd like to send out a huge thank you to the folks who are helping us make MarineBio.org better and better: Christina Van Oosten for her fun and inspiring contribution to the ways you can help page, Leigh Ann Baller for helping us bring you an introduction to marine mammals, reptiles (in process), and elasmobranchs (in process) and those helping with species submission and reviews! More about Contributors & Interns »
- Donations! A sincere thanks to everyone who has donated through our donations page. Your generosity is helping us add content to the site more quickly so that we can continue to make MarineBio the best source for information on marine life on the Web. And remember, a donation to MarineBio makes a great Christmas gift. Giving or receiving donations to MarineBio means giving the gift of a healthy future for the ocean and marine life as we work to continue teaching the world about the wonders of ocean life.
Featured Species: Sea Turtles!
Sea turtles are among the most endangered of all marine species. Though they're found throughout the world in tropical and temperate ocean regions, their numbers continue to dwindle due to degraded nesting areas, pollution, fishing, and disease. Today’s 7 remaining species of sea turtles, Flatbacks, Greens, Hawksbills, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherbacks, Loggerheads, and Olive Ridleys are divided into two families: the Leatherback is a member of the Dermochelyidae family, the remaining 6 are members of the Cheloniidae family.
Anatomy and Adaptations
One of the most striking characteristics of sea turtles is their ability to swim gracefully through the water despite their heavy shell. In all but the Leatherback, the carapace, or dorsal part of the shells, is made of "scutes", which are pieces of keratin that cover the bone. Keratin is a hard protein substance very similar to the protein that makes up human fingernails. The lower half of the shell, or the ventral side, is called the plastron, which is made up of bone and is also covered with scutes. Leatherbacks do not have scutes made of keratin. Instead, their shells are covered by a smooth, leather-like skin that covers a layer of fat underlain by layers of bone and cartilage. Leatherbacks are the fastest swimmers of all the sea turtles, perhaps due to their enormous flippers and the bony ridges along their carapace and plastrons that serve as keels to aid swimming.
Though sea turtles have adapted to spend most of their lives submerged; they do need to periodically come up for air. At the surface, with a single explosive exhalation and rapid inhalation, sea turtles quickly replace the air in their lungs, which are adapted to rapidly exchange oxygen and to prevent gasses from being trapped during deep dives. This quick breath is aided by the cartilage and smooth muscle that reinforces their air passages. Additionally, when a turtle reaches deeper depths, its lungs collapse leaving the air in the reinforced air passages. The air passages do not have extensive blood vessels like the lungs, therefore turtles are protected against decompression sickness, which occurs in humans as a result of excess nitrogen being forced from the lungs into the blood. The blood of sea turtles can deliver oxygen efficiently to body tissues even at the higher pressures encountered during diving. During routine activity, Green and Loggerhead turtles dive for about 4 to 5 minutes and surface to breathe for 1 to 3 seconds. One female Loggerhead tracked at sea made up to 500 dives every 12 hours. Turtles can rest or sleep underwater for several hours at a time but they spend less time submerged during waking hours while diving for food or avoiding predators. Their ability to hold their breath is directly affected by activity and stress, which is the reason why turtles quickly drown when caught in shrimp trawls and other fishing gear.
Sea turtles have also adapted to life in the marine realm by developing the ability to absorb large amounts of salt through their diet and from drinking sea water. They have glands in their eye sockets to excrete excess salt. The salt concentrations of turtle “tears” can be double that of sea water. When females nest, it is said that they cry, but they are actually excreting salt through their eye glands. They also excrete salt and excess water through their esophagus. When they eat, they contract the muscles in their esophagus so that excess water is expelled. The food is held in place by cone-shaped structures called papillae that point backward toward the stomach. The papillae allow turtles to “burp” the water out without losing their food.
Sea turtles are primarily carnivorous during most of their lives, though many species also feed on algae. Hatchlings will eat sponges, jellyfish, sargassum weed, small gastropods, and other crustaceans. Juveniles, sub-adults and adults feed upon conch, clams, crabs, and other crustaceans as well as mollusks and jellyfish, the favorite food source for many sea turtle species. They have powerful jaws that enable them to easily crush the hard shells of their prey.
Female sea turtles leave the ocean about every 2-3 years to lay eggs and most species nest only at night. Nesting can take between one and three hours. After a female turtle drags herself up the beach, she hollows out a pit with her back legs and deposits from fifty to two hundred eggs the size of golf balls. When the last egg is laid, the turtle covers the eggs with sand, tamps down the sand with her plastron, and flings more sand about with her flippers to hide the nest. The Green sea turtle has also been observed often digging another "decoy" nest next to the real one in an attempt to deceive predators and keep their eggs safe.
After about two months, the hatchling turtles emerge at night. The light reflected off the water from the sky guides them to the sea and they make their way to the open ocean. These days, car headlights, street lamps, or lights on buildings near the beach cause some hatchlings to become disoriented and travel in the wrong direction, never making it to sea. Waiting herons and other predators make fast meals of turtle hatchlings and those that remain on the beach can die in the hot sun. There are a number of sea turtle conservation organizations that have observation programs to ensure that as many hatchlings as possible make it to the water. One amazing fact about many sea turtle species is that observations have shown that when the hatchlings reach sexual maturity, often decades later, they almost always return to the same beach where they hatched to lay their eggs.
Sea turtles, once abundant worldwide, have now diminished in the number of species that still exist and in the population sizes of the 7 remaining species. These dwindling species face enormous challenges. Hatchlings are led away from the ocean and into certain death by the bright lights of development that illuminates the vast majority of the world's beaches. Or they return to their natal beach only to find it has been blocked by condominiums or seawalls. They swim into convergence zones where they find plastic and oil to dine on. Sea turtles are frequently found washed up on beaches covered in oil and tar, or showing signs of death through plastic and/or oil ingestion. An epidemic disease, fibropapillomatosis, that originally affected Green sea turtles worldwide is now found in all sea turtle species. The disease manifests on turtle bodies in nonmalignant tumors that can cause fatal complications, which has resulted in species depletion. Though it is illegal in many countries, turtle eggs are still harvested in Latin America to be consumed with beer and salsa as a mythical aphrodisiac, and shells are still sold as jewelry or decoration. Juveniles are even stuffed and sold to tourists as souvenirs. They're trapped in fishing nets and other gear such as longlines and are tossed back into the sea as bycatch, usually dead from suffocation. Turtles take decades to reach sexual maturity; when juvenile populations are depleted, the chances for replenishing the species declines dramatically.
The good news is that there are a number of individuals, organizations, and governments worldwide that have taken up the plight of sea turtles. Turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) have been developed to allow turtles to escape fishing nets, circular hooks for longlines are being used to prevent turtles from swallowing them, which causes less damage. As mentioned earlier, nesting beaches are becoming protected and closely monitored so that eggs remain safe and hatchlings return to sea successfully. Some communities have implemented lighting ordinances and conservation programs have taught beach-dwelling populations how to use lighting near their homes and businesses without harming turtle beaches. Low-pressure sodium-vapor lights that are less attractive to sea turtles are starting to be used to light parking lots and beaches near nesting areas.
There is still hope for turtles worldwide, but more action is needed to increase protected areas, decrease destructive fishing practices, and enforce laws forbidding the illegal harvesting of turtles and turtle eggs.
Issues in Marine Conservation
Recent Study Predicts a Bleak Future for the Ocean by 2048 — What does the immediate future hold for marine biodiversity?
A recent study published in Science (Worm, et. al. Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science, 3 November 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5800, pp. 787 - 790) predicts the collapse of the seafood industry by the middle of this century. In geological time, that's the equivalent of a nanosecond. The study's lead author, Dr. Boris Worm, an assistant professor of marine conservation biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada says "Species have been disappearing from ocean ecosystems and this trend has recently been accelerating. Now we begin to see some of the consequences. For example, if the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime—by 2048."
The study was conducted over four years by a team of marine scientists and economists. The team analyzed a wide variety of data in four meta-analyses at the local, regional, and global level. They began by analyzing 32 marine experiments that manipulated species diversity on small, local scales and monitored the effects. They then tracked changes in species diversity over a 1,000-year period across 12 coastal regions around the world. Data was extracted from archives, fishery records, sediment cores, and archeological data.
From an economic perspective, the team also compiled global fisheries catch data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Sea Around Us Project of the University of British Columbia. Data from 64 large marine ecosystems were examined to determine the effects of large-scale species loss on fisheries-related services. Finally, the team looked at the relationship between recovery of biodiversity in 48 marine protected areas and the recovery of fisheries-related services. The latter revealed a positive outcome in that this disturbing trend of species loss can be reversed if well-managed, however action is needed now. The study cites increased marine protected areas as a solution. Dr. Worm said "Where we [protect marine areas] around the world—from the tropics to temperate ecosystems—we see an increase in species diversity and productivity and stability and economic revenue from those ecosystems."
Without immediate action, however, the future for marine biodiversity and food security is bleak. One of the study's co-authors, Stephen Palumbi predicts "None of us regular working folk are going to be able to afford seafood, it's going to be too rare and too expensive." That's the least of our worries. The greater loss will be to marine biodiversity, which is essential to the health and productivity of marine ecosystems. The team also determined that damage to the oceans impact not only fisheries, but the ocean ecosystem's overall productivity and stability. If overfishing continues at its current rate, we're basically in big trouble. The fish export trade has quadrupled in size over the past 3 decades, largely due to the demand for lean protein. An estimated 90% of the ocean's big fish and top predators have been overfished to unsustainable levels. Though fish and shrimp farms are increasing to meet the demand, this is also not a sustainable solution. Shrimp farms occupy valuable mangroves and seagrass beds that serve as nurseries for many marine species. These areas are also in need of protection to reverse species loss. Furthermore, most farmed fish species are carnivorous and require fish meal that is caught and processed commercially, which defeats the purpose of aquaculture, which is frequently touted as a sustainable solution.
Destructive fishing practices are also to blame. As much as half of the marine life caught by commercial fishers is discarded as bycatch; marine life such as sharks, turtles, dolphins, birds and non-targeted fish species are thrown back into the ocean either dead or dying. Furthermore, bottom trawlers used by commercial fisheries destroy valuable and delicate marine life habitats such as coral reefs and sea beds. These habitats are extremely slow to regenerate, leaving many species homeless and therefore easy pickings for predators. Commercial fishing in ecosystems where biodiversity has been compromised makes target species in those areas particularly susceptible to collapse. The study cites that at least 29% of fished species have already collapsed and the trend is increasing exponentially.
The study concludes "Our analyses suggest that business as usual would foreshadow serious threats to global food security, coastal water quality, and ecosystem stability, affecting current and future generations."
The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) is the information component of the Census of Marine Life (CoML), which is made up of a network of more than 1,000 researchers in 73 countries who are working together to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans—past, present, and future. OBIS boasts a remarkable 10.3 million records of 75,000 species from 153 databases.
OBIS provides an online global geographical reference for marine species. Data includes expert species level and habitat level databases. OBIS is a highly interactive site and provides a variety of spatial query tools to enable visitors, scientists and laypeople alike, to visualize relationships among species and their environment. Using data from multiple reliable sources, OBIS strives to assess and integrate biological, physical, and chemical oceanographic data so that the site can be used as a dynamic tool and visual atlas that visitors can use to study marine species and their range, habitat, and ecosystems.
Through the OBIS Portal, visitors can research spatial/temporal patterns among marine species, analyze marine ecosystems on a global scale, and use the data to help guide future field expeditions. The scope of OBIS offers new challenges in data management, scientific cooperation and organization, and innovative approaches to data analysis. Maintaining the principle of open access, OBIS provides data to facilitate scientific, societal, and government decisions on how to conserve marine life.
The concept for OBIS was generated during a CoML-sponsored Benthic Census Meeting held in October 1997. A prototype of the OBIS web site was launched at Rutgers in 1998 to demonstrate the concept, and the first OBIS International Workshop was held to further develop the system in November 1999. OBIS then obtained support for the system from the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and National Science Foundation (NSF).
In 2001, OBIS joined the Governing Board of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) as an Associate Participant. GBIF is a data system for worldwide biological data whose mission is to facilitate digitization and global dissemination of primary biodiversity data worldwide. OBIS is working with GBIF to become the major component for ocean biogeography and systematics. Other affiliations include: Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), Scientific Committee on Ocean Research (SCOR), DIVERSITAS, International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), International Association for Biological Oceanography (IABO), the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), UNESCO Man-And-the-Biosphere (MAB), and Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). We encourage you to visit these sites which make up a solid scientific network working to monitor the state of the world's ocean.
MarineBio.org includes links to relevant information on OBIS and the GBIF on every species home page and consider these resources an integral part of understanding the biology and status of marine species.
The Sea Below ~ Expeditions :: Indonesia and The Georgia Aquarium
Indonesia: David Campbell, Joni Lawrence, and Dr. James Wood traveled to Sulawesi, Indonesia in August/September 2006 for MarineBio’s expedition to Lembeh Strait and the Bunaken National Marine Park to shoot underwater photos and video for MarineBio.org. We spent almost three weeks there diving nonstop in the epicenter of the world’s marine biodiversity. The expedition was successful and David and Joni were able to capture about 2,000 photos and 6 hours of video: See the Gallery here.
The first leg of our journey was spent in Lembeh Strait, the "muck diving capital of the world." David and Joni arrived in Manado tired from the 24-hour journey from San Francisco, but anxious to get in the water and looking forward to seeing James again. Once we got our passports stamped and collected our luggage, we went outside into the equatorial heat to find our ride to Lembeh, and lo and behold there was Cap’n James waiting for us with Risko, our dive guide for the next 2 weeks. James had arrived several days before us and spent some time in Bunaken before transferring to Lembeh, which is on the other side of Sulawesi Island. He managed to overcome both illness with the flu and technical difficulties with his underwater photo equipment during his stay and still collected around 3,000 photos of both his beloved cephalopods and lots of other critters, including the elusive mating Mandarin fish.
We spent our first afternoon in Lembeh snorkeling off the beach. Though the area was mostly seagrass and "muck," to our surprise, we saw some rather aggressive Nemo! clownfish, mantis shrimp, a juvenile Emperor angelfish, and lots of other fishes around the small reef patches in front of the resort. Risko and the other dive guide in Lembeh, Opo, were amazing. Opo has been diving the Lembeh Strait for 18 years and is a legend for his ability to spot the highly camouflaged creatures that hide in the “muck” (which is actually dark volcanic sand). With his famous metal poker, he would point at a creature right in front of our faces—and sometimes we still didn’t see it at first! Then suddenly a frogfish, Ghost pipefish, Demon stinger, Scorpionfish, Seahorse, or other well-camouflaged creature would "magically" appear. Other species weren’t camouflaged at all. The vividly colored nudibranchs and creatures like the Flamboyant cuttlefish or sparkling urchins added a welcome splash of color to the gloom. Opo’s enthusiasm and joy at watching our faces as we discovered the crazy creatures made our experience in Lembeh unforgettable.
The dive sites we dove in Lembeh included: Police pier, Nudi Falls, Air Prang, Jahir, Nudi Retreat, Hairball, Hairball Two, Aw Shucks, and Pantai Parigi. Both the day and night dives were spectacular in Lembeh. Often the first 30 minutes of the dive were spent swimming around the murky water looking at an otherworldly endless expanse of black volcanic sand wondering whether we’d ever see anything more interesting than a passing jellyfish, when suddenly we’d spot an octopus, then a cuttlefish, then a seahorse. This happened on almost every night dive, which made them all the more fun and exciting, but also made me question whether Opo was keeping critters in his pockets until the last few minutes of the dive when he would strategically place them just to see the look on our faces!
After four days of diving in Lembeh, we left for Bunaken somewhat reluctantly because Lembeh was so amazing. We began diving the following day and, though David has been to Sulawesi before, we were both astonished at the coral diversity of the first wall we dove and the critters were amazing as well. We saw Blacktip sharks, enormous Green sea turtles, a huge variety of reef fish, Black and white-banded sea snakes (actually sea kraits), mating Mandarin fish… etc etc. and a huge variety of anemonefish who were very protective of their homes. As friendly as Nemo seems, in reality they don’t like critters (esp. humans) near their anemone homes! One actually bit me (a very cute ocean moment) and another bit the edge of David’s shorts and tried to tug him away.
What makes Bunaken so special? Well... it’s located at the epicenter of the Earth’s marine biodiversity. There is an enormous variety of hard and soft corals, which helps maintain high levels of diversity among other species in the park by providing a wide variety of food and shelter. It is thought that more than 450 different species of hard corals can be found in Bunaken—compared to about 60-100 species in the Caribbean. There are thousands of different reef fish species. Bunaken is also notorious for the Coelacanth found there in 1998. Coelacanths were thought to have gone extinct 80 million years ago until one was discovered off the coast of South Africa in 1938, which later led to the discovery that coelacanths were actually alive and well and indigenous to the Comoros Islands. That is until another one was discovered in North Sulawesi in 1998. This living fossil is called "raja laut" by local fishermen, which means “king of the sea.” The Comoros and Sulawesi species are thought to have diverged 5.5 million years ago, but research into the two is ongoing and a final description is not yet available.
Some of the dive sites we dove in Bunaken included: Lekuan I, II, and III, Gorango, Pangalingan, Mike’s Point, Cela-Cela, Mandalin, and Fukui. We were very surprised that the visibility in each of the sites only averaged about 40 feet; we expected 80-100 foot+ visibility. There was quite a bit of plastic and other debris in the water; we’re hoping that it’s not pollution that’s causing the legendary clear waters of Bunaken to cloud, but the small particles in the water looked more like fibers than plankton.
Fortunately, the trash problem is on the agenda of the managers of the Bunaken National Marine Park. When we first got to Bunaken, we paid the Marine Park entrance fee during registration with the dive resort. I wondered what the fee was used for and remember thinking (cynically) that it probably goes into some bureaucrat’s pocket. I wish I’d asked the dive resort staff during the briefing because, now that I know what the money is being used for, I think those details are worth being part of the dive operation orientation. The dive operators are an integral part of the success of this fee-for-conservation program and the program ensures the long-term viability of their businesses, so they should take the opportunity during orientation to describe how the fees are used.
The Bunaken National Marine Park was established in 1991 to preserve its valuable resources and to regulate problems such as dynamite and cyanide fishing and other illegal activities such as mangrove cutting for wood and charcoal and the capture of endangered wildlife such reef fishes, turtles, and dugongs. The entrance fee program began in 2001 and has helped finance the patrol teams that monitor illegal activity in the park. The funds are managed by a multi-stakeholder management board at the local level comprised of members of the N. Sulawesi Watersport Association, villagers, fisheries, the environmental government agencies, and a local university’s marine sciences department. The fee, about $17 for a one-year tag, is also used for conservation education, village conservation and development programs, mangrove replanting, public wells, and garbage disposal areas among other activities.
We stayed and dove with Two Fish Divers during our stay in both Lembeh and Bunaken. Overall, we were very pleased with the operation and it fully met our expectations considering it was far more affordable than most of the resorts in N. Sulawesi. Although the accommodations in Lembeh were a bit primitive, we were quite comfortable. We stayed in “beach rooms” in a large wooden house that we shared with another diver. The rooms had two beds, a floor fan and a bathroom with western-style toilet. There was running water, though it was quite brackish and a bit smelly. Our only real complaint about the accommodations was the frequent and very noisy 4-legged nocturnal visitors we had each night. The "resort" would do well with some resident cats! The dining area was a few steps away from the rooms and had a refrigerator with cold drinks as well as a water cooler. The food in Lembeh was very basic; sort of homestyle Indonesian. Meat/fish, rice, and a vegetable. The dive boat was a traditional Indonesian wooden boat with a large deck, which was quite warm and helped take off the chill during surface intervals. In Bunaken, we stayed in "Beach View" bungalows, which was slightly nicer than the rooms in Lembeh (and far more quiet!). The bathrooms were much larger and the water, though still brackish, was not as smelly as in Lembeh. The bungalows also had two beds and floor fans. We had nocturnal visitors in Bunaken as well, but they were just geckos and we thoroughly enjoyed watching them. The food in Bunaken was a bit more varied than in Lembeh, but basically the same.
Dive guide Risko was also with us in Bunaken. We credit him for being one of the safer and more attentive dive guides at Two Fish. He was much more familiar with the marine life in Bunaken and helped us find many of the critters we’d hoped to see while we were there. He even found the tiny pygmy seahorse several times, not an easy species to spot even if you know which sea fans it inhabits.
Two Fish’s owners, Nigel and Tina, were also very welcoming and accommodating. They were very good about asking for feedback to improve their resort and services. They were also happy to discuss conservation with us and described their strategies to keep Bunaken and Lembeh healthy. They strive to educate and develop their dive guides to demonstrate respect and care for the marine life there, and it showed. The dive guides were very protective of both the reefs and the critters; they were not afraid to reprimand divers who got too close to the coral or tried to touch the critters. I observed other dive operators ignore their divers as they crushed the reefs with their fins and knees trying to get close for photos. Two Fish has also participated in coral reef and mangrove restoration in Bunaken. Considering how affordable the Two Fish rates are for lodging and diving, I’d recommend them for divers who are happy with only the bare necessities and lots of beautiful marine life and corals.
The Georgia Aquarium: David and Joni took advantage of Dr. Martin Griffths' (aka Marteee in the Plankton Forums) recent business trip to Atlanta, Georgia to finally meet him in person and visit the Georgia Aquarium. While the aquarium is home to some impressive species such as four whale sharks and 4 beluga whales, overall we were a bit disappointed in the experience. We all agreed that the aquarium is seriously lacking in education about their marine species and marine conservation in general. There was minimal species data available near the exhibits, though some featured very basic touch-screen kiosks for children (which didn't seem to be working at the time). Because the aquarium is almost always extremely crowded, providing information through 3-4 kiosks throughout the entire aquarium is not nearly enough.
There are five themed galleries with entrances off an enormous central room where the gift shop (conveniently located just before the exits as usual) and cafeteria can be found. The galleries are separated into habitats called "Ocean Voyager," "River Scout," "Cold Water Quest," "Tropical Diver," and "Georgia Explorer." The effect is more theme park than aquarium and there is very little information about the effects of each habitat on marine species or their conservation status. And, although it appears that much thought went into the atmosphere of each gallery, some of the imitation habitats were so obviously imitation that you felt more pity than wonder for the animals. We're not big fans of keeping animals in captivity, particularly not the larger species like the Belugas and the Whale sharks, though the Belugas were rescued from less desirable circumstances. Though there is a need for Whale shark research, it was a bit heartbreaking to see two of these magnificent creatures "housed" in water that's as shallow as they are long. It was more heartbreaking to learn that two more Whale sharks had been captured for the aquarium. The two new females were presumably added to ensure the success of the research on reproduction that was planned by the aquarium in the beginning—or at least planned until they learned that the original male and female "specimens" were actually two males.
The lack of information and the lack of the expected "wow" factor after so much hype surrounding the aquarium was almost surreal (they could learn a thing or two by visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium). The aquarium is huge and there is a tremendous amount of wasted wall space that could be used for education—there were so few signs with even just the names of species that it seemed the aquarium is more interested in shuttling people in and out quickly rather than providing a rich-educational experience about the wonders of marine life. Based on the marketing of the aquarium prior to its opening in 2005, and its emphasis on educating schoolchildren, we expected a robust educational experience. As marine conservationists, we didn't understand why, instead of spending so much energy on the creation of the illusion of habitat, the designers didn't create an aquarium that would inspire wonder and an understanding of the importance of marine conservation. Even the aquarium staff(volunteers?) who gave brief presentations for the Whale shark and Beluga exhibits didn't go into a lot of detail. There were also brief videos about some species, however they too gave too few details. The docents were kind enough to answer questions and many seemed very well-informed, however this should be an ancillary educational component, not the primary source of information on aquarium exhibits.
We hope that as the Georgia Aquarium continues to reap the financial benefits of success, it will consider incorporating more education on the marine species on display. If these creatures must be taken from their natural environment, then they should at least serve a purpose in teaching people about their real-life biology, ecology, and conservation status.
For more information see: Bunaken Entrance Fee
We recently enjoyed reading David Helvarg's 50 Ways to Save the Ocean published in 2006. The book is divided into sections: Enjoy, Conserve, Clean, Protect, and Learn and Share, that include simple actions we can all take to save the ocean. The foreword was written by Philippe Cousteau who accurately captures the spirit of the book by saying "If there's one thing I learned growing up in my family, it was that we as individuals need to protect the environment—not only by volunteering, donating money, or going on great adventures of discovery, as my grandfather and father have done, but also by making fundamental changes in our everyday habits. When considering your impact on the planet, realize that the critical concept is not that you can make a difference; it's that everything you do already does make a difference." We found the book an invaluable reference to help us expand our Ways you can help page on MarineBio.org and we hope you find it as useful in your life.
Another excellent read is Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davidson, the author of The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef, which we reviewed in the last newsletter. Like The Enchanted Braid, Fire in the Turtle House is a compelling and eloquently written book that describes the plight of sea turtles in the ocean today, particularly with regard to the epidemic disease, fibropapillomatosis, that originally affected Green sea turtles worldwide and is now found in all sea turtle species. The disease manifests on turtle bodies in nonmalignant tumors that can cause fatal complications. They result in reduced vision, obstruction to normal feeding and swimming, entanglement in fishing lines and nets, etc. Davidson explores turtle habitats and interviews scientists and turtle conservationists to find an answer to the cause/s of the disease. Though the book is a sobering look at the ultimate fragility of a species that is more than 100 million years old,Davidson infuses his writing with hope and humor. As with Enchanted Braid, this book is also accessible to the lay reader. Though the book's primary focus is on the mystery surrounding this disease, he also ventures into other territory describing similar stories of anomalies in the natural world. He also discusses disease transmission, marine ecology, overfishing, alien species, and the human impact in the marine realm contributing to declines in the health and populations of other marine species. We highly recommend the book to everyone.
Much of the information in the sea turtle article above was found in Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. This beautifully illustrated book features breathtaking photos of sea turtles around the world along with helpful drawings that demonstrate the differences between the remaining 7 species of sea turtles. We highly recommend this book for all ages.
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Help Protect and Restore Ocean Life
Help us protect and restore marine life by supporting our various online community-centered marine conservation projects that are effectively sharing the wonders of the ocean with millions each year around the world, raising a balanced awareness of the increasingly troubling and often very complex marine conservation issues that affect marine life and ourselves directly, providing support to marine conservation groups on the frontlines that are making real differences today, and the scientists, teachers and students involved in the marine life sciences. Join us today or show your support with a monthly donation.
With your support, most marine life and their ocean habitats can be protected, if not restored to their former natural levels of biodiversity. We sincerely thank our thousands of members, donors and sponsors, who have decided to get involved and support the MarineBio Conservation Society.