How and Why Do Fish School?

By , November 30, 2015 2:57 pm
schooling fish

Schooling Fish by: Wikimedia Commons Eric Kilby

How and why do fish school? First off, an aggregation of fish is when a bunch of fishes are together. Shoaling is when a group of fish come together for social reasons. It is more specifically called schooling when the fish also move together in coordination. Half of all fishes shoal at one point during their lives, and one quarter of fishes shoal their whole lives.

There are a multitude of reasons why fish school. These include safety in numbers , easier to find food, swimming more efficiently and easier to find potential mates. Schooling behavior confuses potential predators, which cannot focus just on one fish to catch.

Schooling takes coordination, as each fish senses its position in relation to the other fishes. All fish have a lateral line around their bodies that help. There are tiny holes with sensitive hairs in them in the lateral line.

Most fishes don’t school when it is dark, so they are dependent on their eyesight.

According to some scientists, how they school is dependent on their genes. It’s not a learned behavior. Scientists did experiments on some small fish (see here for details) and cross bred individuals that preferred schooling to those that didn’t. The results told the scientists that there are parts of the fishes’ genome associated with schooling.

Another mystery is how fish somehow know when they are with fish that look like themselves so they can school together. They don’t recognize themselves in a mirror like more intelligent animals, so how do they do it? An odd fish out in a school increases its chances that it’ll be seen by a predator.

They may use their senses: sight, smell (pheromones), and sound. But otherwise a Google search only comes up with conjectures.

What questions do you have about fish? I’ll cover them in future posts.

I consulted the following
Wikipedia article on Shoaling and Schooling Fish

Elephant Seals, El Nino & Domoic Acid Poisoning

By , November 17, 2015 4:11 pm
elephant seal

Newborn Elephant Seal photo by: Charmaine Coimbra

Hello, my name is Ellie, and I’m an Elephant Seal. I’m excited because I’ll become a mother soon. I’ve been pregnant for eleven months. I’ve come to Ano Nuevo, off the central coast of California, USA. Here there’s what we call a rookery, where elephant seals hang out on the beach. We spend up to ten months a year at sea, so being on the beach is a vacation for us. Well, maybe not for the mothers who have to protect their pups and produce milk that contains up to 50 percent milkfat (human breastmilk is only 4 percent fat).

I feel the pup coming. I push, push and push until plop! My daughter is born! I clean her up by licking her. She’s already vocal, probably because she’s hungry. We have a special call to one another so we can be reunited if separated. The beach is crowded-there’s a lot of elephant seals here.

I worry that some male will bowl over my pup, or my pup will get in the way during one of the dominant male’s battles with rivals. Otherwise our days here will be blissful; sunning ourselves in the sun, nursing, and dozing off. I won’t wean her for four weeks, and after five weeks I’ll mate and finally return to the sea to feed.

Sigh, I’m not looking forward to returning to sea. Sure I’ll be famished, but the food fish just aren’t here. Usually, in a non-El Nino year, there is plenty of food. That is due to something called upwelling, which occurs off parts of the west coast of the Americas. Upwelling is when cold, nutrient-rich seawater comes up from the deep ocean onto the surface. Plankton, microscopic plants and animals that make up the beginning of the food chain, feast on the nutrients. The fish, that I eat, find plankton to eat.

In a non El Nino year, the trade winds blow west warm seawater from the Eastern Pacific Ocean (the west coast of the Americas) to the Western Pacific Ocean (Asia). This allows the cold nutrient dense water that dwells in the deep waters below to replace the warm surface water that was blown away west. This is what causes upwelling along the west coast of the Americas. In contrast, during an El Nino year, the trade winds stop and the warm water stays in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Warmer water means no upwelling, less plankton, and therefore less fish for me to eat.

To boot, once I find food there’s a horrible toxic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia australis in it. Domoic acid poisoning has neurological effects on animals that eat food contaminated with it. According to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, USA, “About three-quarters of the California sea lions at our hospital are suffering from domoic acid toxicity, which primarily attacks the brain, causing lethargy, disorientation, seizures and if not treated, eventually, death.” Recently the Dungeness crab season has been canceled because of this algae. This algae is also responsible for the red tide seen periodically off the coasts that closes shellfish fisheries.

It’s an uncertain world that my daughter will face. I hope she can survive to a few years old to have pups of her own.

YOUR Help Is Needed! Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card & Help a Scientist!

By , October 18, 2015 2:47 pm

Help us do science! I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of Ocean of Hope readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve Ocean of Hope and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card (100 available, 2 per blog participating!), or a t-shirt! Anyone can participate, even if you don’t regularly read this or other blogs. It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders. Hurry, survey ends midnight CST November 20, 2015!

Thank you Dr. Jane Goodall!

By , October 10, 2015 7:49 pm

Today I heard Dr. Jane Goodall speak for the 5th time at the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco, CA. Dr. Jane is my personal role model and hero. After hearing her speak for the first time at a Bioneers Conference, a light bulb went off for me. I’m to follow in her footsteps, but for the oceans that cover 70 percent of our Earth.

Dr. Jane inspired me to found a Roots and Shoots group at my children’s school, Kitayama Elementary in Union City, CA. We were honored with group of the month many years ago.

I never tire of hearing Dr. Jane’s talks. Each is unique and inspiring. While all her speeches refer to her time studying chimpanzees in Gombe, today she surprised me and mentioned my favorite animal, the octopus. She said to google “coconut octopus” to see an example of tool use in animals.

During her book signing, I asked Dr. Jane her favorite ocean animal. She said, “I suppose whales.” I definitely don’t think she’s been asked that before! I also thanked her for mentioning my favorite animal, the octopus. I gave her a blue marble (see the blue marble project here) and my business card with my blog url on it. I said I named it in her honor (all her books have the word hope in them) and she said she’d check it out. I forgot to mention that I often write from the (non-human!) animal’s POV. I think she’d approve. Thank you Dr. Jane for continuing to inspire me and so many others to save our natural world!

Book Excerpt Part 2-Ocean Country by Liz Cunningham

By , September 19, 2015 2:49 pm

Humpback whale breaching

Humpback whale breaching © 2015 Charles Costello


Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage From Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas is available in independent bookstores now or at

We spent four more days like that, looking for whales, watching them on the surface, and getting into the water with them.The stormy seas passed, and the waters calmed. Humpbacks are notorious for their playful acrobatics.We saw them breach and extend their heads out of the water to have a look at us (“spyhop”), and slap the surface of the water with their flukes (“peduncle throw”). A peduncle throw can mean many things. It can mean “bug off, fella,” if a female is tired of a male’s advances. Or a male that has established himself as a female’s “escort” might use it to discourage another male’s advances.
“Sometimes the calves,” Gene told us,“when they get playful, will get a little wound up and wander off and get a little bit too far from mom. They can get separated quite quickly and then mom will fire off a peduncle throw like,‘Hey, Junior! Get back here!’ ”
Once when we were in the water with a mother and calf, the mother rose vertically in the water to breathe. Straight ahead of us, forty-five feet of whale vertical beneath the sur- face. A gentle, living, breathing creature over four stories tall.
And well, I haven’t told you about all of us in the tender. The gear stowed at the center of the boat included small fins and masks and wet suits a third the size of ours. Gene’s partner, Cloe, had come with her daughter, Lucaya, who was six years old. And Dave, a friend of Gene’s since high school, was there with his wife, Suzanne, and their daughter, Eva.
There was a contagious mirth that we couldn’t have replicated without our younger boat-mates.When the humpbacks were “pec slapping,” slapping their pectoral fins on the surface to signal to each other, Lucaya and Eva leaned over the railing and squealed, “The whales are waving! The whales are waving!” (They were right.The whales were waving.)
For more of excerpt, click on page 2 below the social media bar

Pages: 1 2

Book excerpt: Part 1 of Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas by Liz Cunningham

By , September 7, 2015 5:46 pm
Humpback mother calf

Humpback mother and calf © 2015 Liz Cunningham

Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage From Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas is available in independent bookstores now or at

“…With genuine emotion and great pragmatism, Cunningham makes
passionate pleas for the continued health of the planet.”
—Publishers Weekly

In Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest
to Save the Seas
, Liz Cunningham shows us how people around the world
are practicing “hope in action” and why it’s time for all of us to
join them.

After Liz Cunningham was nearly swallowed by a rogue wave in a
kayaking accident in which she was temporarily paralyzed, she was left
with a sense of despair and alienation from the waters that she had
always turned for solace and healing. As she recovered physically,
Cunningham vowed that she would reconnect with the ocean and recover
hope—hope for herself and for the planet’s ailing waters. In Ocean Country:
One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas

(Foreword by Carl Safina, North Atlantic Books, September 8,
2015, Paperback), Cunningham shares her two-year global journey to
discover how communities and individuals are fighting to save the
marine world that every living being depends on and how they are
creating hope through action in dire times.

From a former “dynamite fisherman” in Indonesia who walked away from
heftier profits to save the ocean ecosystem his community relies on
for subsistence to a culinary school in Paris that teaches sustainable
cooking practices, people are rescuing our oceans and coming together
to fight the destruction that can seem inevitable. And they are
effecting change—though we rarely hear about. Recently, Bluefin tuna—a
species all but declared extinct—has seen in an uptick in their
stocks. This turn-around is a result of massive, coordinate effort
across industries and communities. It is one of the remarkable stories
of people practicing what Cunningham calls “hope in action.” From the
San Francisco Bay Area to the Turks and Caicos Islands to Sulawesi,
Indonesia to Papua, New Guinea to French islands in the Mediterranean,
Cunningham shows us how people throughout the world are beginning to
see that we can have hope, that we must act, and—most importantly—that
the two are interdependent.

Ocean Country is an adventure story, a call to action, and a poetic
meditation on the state of the seas—but most of all—it is a story of
finding true hope in the midst of one of the greatest crises to face
humankind.

Twenty-one percent of royalties will be given to the New England
Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), which aims to
protect and promote ocean biodiversity through funding of small-scale,
time-sensitive, community-based programs. This amount was chosen to
highlight the percentage of oxygen in each breath we take and that the
fact that over one half of that oxygen comes from marine plants and
algae in the ocean.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LIZ CUNNINGHAM is the author of Talking Politics: Choosing the
President in the Television Age (Praeger), which features frank and
probing oral-history interviews with top television journalists such
as Tom Brokaw, Larry King, and Robin MacNeil. She has written for
Earth Island Journal, East Bay Express, the Marin Poetry Center
Anthology, The Outward Bound International Journal, Times of the
Islands, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She has collaborated with
institutions such as the Academy for Educational Development, the
Constitutional Rights Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the
Smithsonian Institution. She also serves on the board of Outward Bound
Peacebuilding and holds a B.A. in Human Ecology from College of the
Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Visit her at: lizcunningham.net.

For book excerpt click page 2 below social media bar:

Pages: 1 2

Guest Post-9 Things You Can Do to Reduce Garbage in Our Oceans

By , August 26, 2015 10:41 am
Plastic Ahoy! Book

Plastic Ahoy! by Patricia Newman

Today’s guest post is by Patricia Newman. She is the author of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Millbrook Press), winner of the Green Earth Book Award, one of the Bank Street College’s Best Books for 2015, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. Her goal is to help kids become ocean stewards.

9 Things You Can Do to Reduce Garbage in Our Oceans
Don’t you love the sound of waves lapping the shore? The salt breeze cooling your face. Treasures that wash ashore with the tides. But what if the tide washed in hundreds of pounds of plastic on your favorite beach?

I wrote Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because tons of plastic float in our ocean and wash up on our beaches each year—5.25 TRILLION pieces. The book is my way of persuading you to rethink the way you use one-time plastic—things like cups, water bottles, yogurt containers, plastic bags. It’s no longer enough to simply recycle. We have to use less plastic because we’re drowning in the stuff!

Plastic Ahoy! Book

10 Plastic Waste Facts to Curl Your Hair



The news is bleak, but that’s where you come in. My challenge to you is to choose two of the following action items and pledge to reduce your one-time plastic consumption:

1. Skip the straw. Every day restaurants drop 500,000,000 straws in our drinks—enough to fill 46,400 school buses every year—and virtually none of them are recycled. REFUSE boxed drinks with plastic straws, and REFUSE the straw in every restaurant you visit. In fact, try to get the restaurant to serve straws only on request—or better yet—do away with them all together.


2. Bring your own bags. And not just to the grocery store. Everywhere. Toys R Us. Macy’s. Target. WalMart. Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you forget your bag, simply do without one.

3. Buy eco-friendly school supplies. Lunch boxes without plastic. Pencils made from recycled newspaper. Pens made from recycled water bottles. Recycled paper. You can find them online.

4. Ditch the single-use plastic water bottle. Instead of purchasing large flats of single-use water bottles for parties, school or the office, fill a big urn with water and let people refill their reusable bottles preferably made from stainless steel. If you absolutely need individual servings, consider boxed water.

5. Refuse plastic OJ bottles. Plastic manufacturers are beginning to make PlantBottles. I see them in the orange juice cooler in my grocery store. Yes, they’re an improvement over regular plastic. Yes, they come from sustainable plants. But so far, they are only 30% plant. And it’s unclear if recycling companies will accept them. I still prefer cartons.

6. Refuse plastic to-go boxes. Insist on cardboard boxes or aluminum foil for restaurant left-overs or take-out.

7. Recycle every bit of plastic you can. I recently checked the recycling rules in my hometown and we can recycle a lot of different kinds of plastic. Double-check the rules for your hometown and start filling up that recycling bin!

8. Sign up to participate in the September 19 International Coastal Cleanup.

9. Read Plastic, Ahoy! for other ideas.

Guest post-10 Fun Facts About Northern Elephant Seals

By , August 16, 2015 7:46 pm
elephant seal

Elephant seal (weaner stage) photo by: Charmaine Coimbra

This is a guest post by Charmaine Coimbra, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, who writes and edits two marine-focused blogs, Neptune911.com, and Neptune911forkids.blogspot.com. She also writes for local publications. Since 2008 she has volunteered as a docent for Friends of the Elephant Seal in San Simeon, California

Ten Fun Facts About Northern Elephant Seals

1. Elephant seal pups must be born on a beach because they can’t swim or hunt yet.

2. When an elephant seal mother weans her pup from her rich milk, the pup is now called a “weaner.” The weaner will live off of its fatty blubber for several months—until the day it leaves for sea and catches its first food. Elephant seals eat squid, octopus, hagfish (slime eels), rays, skates, small sharks and hake.

3. When weaners leave their birth beach for the sea, they remain alone until they return to the beach in late summer or early fall. All elephant seals stay alone when they leave the beach for the sea. They do not swim in pods, herds or groups.

4. It takes eight years for a male elephant seal to grow to full length, including his elephant-like nose. He may eventually weigh between 3000 to 5000 pounds (1350-2267 kg.), and measure 14 to 16 feet long (2.5 to 3.5 meters).

5. A female elephant seal doesn’t grow a long nose. She is also smaller than the adult male. She will weigh between 900 to 1800 pounds (408 to 816 kg.) and measure between 9 to 12 feet long (2.5 to 3.5 meters).

6. A male elephant seal’s roar is so loud that you can hear it from one mile away.

7. Male elephant seals from different rookeries (beaches where elephant seals go to twice a year) have their own dialect.

8. Adult elephant seals can dive below 5,000 feet (1.524 kilometers) to the bottom of the sea.

9. Elephant seals can stay underwater for almost 2-hours.

10. Elephant seals migrate two times a year. They swim about 12,000 miles a year.

Guest Post-Marine Conservation is Everyone’s Business

By , August 3, 2015 6:12 pm
Green Sea Turtle Honu

Green Sea Turtle photo by: Ken Muise

This is a guest post from Ken Muise of snorkelstore.com. Ken is an active duty Soldier stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. He believes he is best snorkeler in the world, although many disagree with him. His website helps people make good choices on snorkel gear, appreciate and respect the marine environment, and gives tips on keeping safe in the water.

Marine Conservation is Everyone’s Business

The planet Earth is bestowed with a spectacular existence of plant and animal life. The charm and grace of the planet is almost beyond description. The many creatures on land and at sea add to the attraction.

Ecosystem processes are designed to support the planet’s life, which includes the human species. These processes include filtration and pouring of the water basin, pollination, flood moderation and renewal of soil fertility. These natural processes are largely overlooked and not given the value they deserve.

For example, let’s look at the contribution of pollinators to the production of fruits such as blueberries, melons, and apples. According to experts the estimated value of pollination services, which are carried on by insects, is about $ 217 billion each year.

The world has been moving towards rapid industrialization and urbanization. Humans, to satisfy their materialistic desires, began ignoring natural habitats. This has affected the natural habitats of different creatures. Now various species of terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals are on the brink of extinction.

Habitat conservation, both on land and at sea, for wildlife is amongst the most vital issues confronting the environment. As the human population expands, area utilization increases. Wild species have less space to call home.

The surface of the Earth has changed due to human actions, such as severe deforestation, loss of topsoil, and biodiversity extinction. Some species can’t live outside their own living space without human mediation, such as zoos and aquariums. The conservation of their natural surroundings is crucial to their protection. Transitory species are more vulnerable against environment devastation, especially along their migratory routes. Changing a creature’s living space can bring about a domino effect that can undermine an entire ecosystem.

It is important for people to actively participate in repairing the ecosystems that have been widely damaged due to human intervention. Volunteer efforts in conservation projects aim to remedy this loss of biological resources. People are able to take an active part in preventing the extinction of certain species and help maintain ecosystem integrity.

Marine conservation has gained momentum. Aquatic beings are faced with various dangers. Coral reefs are an epicenter of biodiversity. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter. In addition, coral reefs are important to humans as a source of the food (i.e. fish, shellfish, etc.) and for eco-tourism.


Unfortunately due to human impacts on coral reefs, they are increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The greatest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, sedimentation and pollution from land. Along with increased carbon in the oceans, coral bleaching and diseases, there are few pristine reefs worldwide. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs “high” or “very high” for risk of extinction.

Coral reef degradation is harmful to island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines because many people there depend on coral reef ecosystems to feed their families and earn a living. Many fishermen are unable to catch as many fish as they used to. They use cyanide and dynamite fishing, which further degrades the coral reefs. One solution to stop this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine areas is important. Once the local communities understand the issues, then they fight to preserve the reefs. Coral reef conservation has many economic, social and environmental benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people worldwide as well.

Government agencies and other organizations have been working hard to alleviate the problem of coral reef decline. With various laws, acts, and campaigns, they aim to educate people. There are various programs that facilitate marine conservation. Marine conservation can be accomplished if people join hands to achieve this goal.

MarineBio Conservation Society is deeply committed to marine conservation. It is based on the idea that by sharing marine and maritime life, people will be inspired to protect the oceans. I hope people will consider becoming members of the MarineBio Conservation Society. Pollution free oceans will then be enjoyable to all when diving with snorkel gear.

Children’s Book Review-Larry the Lazy Blue Whale

By , July 20, 2015 7:54 pm

Larry the Lazy Blue Whale

Larry the Lazy Blue Whale


Children’s Book Review of Larry the Lazy Blue Whale by Burt Kempner

Larry the Lazy Blue Whale: A Mild Wild Story by Burt Kempner is a children’s book about a blue whale making his way to his winter feeding grounds. He takes a nap. Little does he know that two pirate ships are about to lay claim to him as land!

The rest of the book is about the two pirate ships, their fighting and eventual resolution. I won’t give away the ending, but it is satisfying and has a good moral.

I liked the introduction to the blue whales, but lost some interest when the pirates came along. The pirate part is written fine. I was just expecting more about the natural history of Larry.

The illustrations by Stephanie Richoll are outstanding and help move the story along.

If you like children’s pirate adventure books, then this is the book for you. If you’re expecting to learn just about Larry’s life history, you’ll be disappointed. But if you like blue whales and pirate books, then this is definitely the book for you! It’s a book you won’t mind reading to your children over and over.
Buy now from

10 Facts About the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

By , July 13, 2015 9:30 pm
Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Lion's Mane Jellyfish photo by: NOAA

Note: Since Jellyfish aren’t really fish, I will now refer to them as Jellies instead…

1. The Lion’s Mane Jelly is the largest Jelly in the ocean. Its bell can reach up to 8 feet in diameter, and its tentacles up to 120 feet long (that’s longer than a blue whale!).

2. The Lion’s Mane Jelly lives in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Arctic Oceans.

3. The Lion’s Mane Jelly is bioluminescent (glows in the dark!).

4. Like all jellies, the Lion’s Mane Jelly has no brain, blood, or nervous system.

5. Like all jellies, the Lion’s Mane Jelly is 95% water.

6. There are 200 species of True Jellies.

7. All Jellies are radially symmetrical.

8. Jellies have no eyes, but rather eye spots that detect light and dark.

9. Lion’s Mane Jellies have nematocysts in their tentacles that they use to sting their prey. Nematocysts are barbs (sharp points) filled with venom.

10. A Jelly can sting you even if washed up on the beach so be careful! Jelly stings on humans can be treated with vinegar to lessen the pain.

Happy World Oceans Day!

By , June 8, 2015 7:41 pm
Clark’s clownfish Wakatobi Indonesia

Clark’s clownfish photo by: Cherilyn Jose

Happy World Oceans Day! Each June 8 I stop and ponder the state of the oceans. It’s not a pretty picture as there is overfishing, pollution and climate change effects to worry about. Since I last wrote this post, “The Three Most Pressing Issue for World Oceans Day”up to 80% of the world’s fisheries are now exploited, up from 53% just 2 years ago. Over 1 billion people rely on fish for their primary source of protein. What are they to eat once there are not enough fishes to catch?

Ocean acidification has become more of a hot button issue, as the effects of it are already being seen on commercial shellfish and pteropods (a marine snail). Ocean acidification is a ticking time bomb for coral reefs. There are a few studies on places with naturally lower pH and the corals there survive, but overall it’s a bleak picture for coral reefs as far as ocean acidification is concerned. There’s also coral bleaching due to higher seawater temperatures. What is to become of the coral reefs that house 25% of the ocean’s wildlife?

More people are now aware of the problem of plastic in the ocean. If it was just plastic water bottles and plastic bags, then it would be easy to clean up. Unfortunately most of the plastic, over 90% of it, is microscopic-sized. The plastic is small enough for plankton to eat. The plastic bioaccumulates up the food chain. The little fishes eat the plastic and the bigger fishes that eat the little ones also get a dose of plastic and so on until you get to the top level predators such as sharks and humans that get an even bigger dose of plastic. Humans carry around several pounds of plastic in their body!

Phew, fortunately there are things you can do to help the oceans (taken from a previous post):

*Marine protected areas (MPAs) can help fisheries become sustainable by being a nursery for the fish caught right outside the MPA borders. Unfortunately only 1% of the oceans are protected.

*You can help by eating only sustainably caught seafood. Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide as a start.

*Curbing carbon dioxide emissions (i.e. using less fossil fuel) by using other alternative energies will help tremendously in slowing down ocean acidification.

*Driving less and using public transportation are great ways to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also consider getting solar power for your home or workplace.

*Plastic pollution is preventable, especially by cutting down the use of single use plastic bags. Please bring your own bags to the grocery store! Support local plastic bag bans. Pressure manufacturers to use only recyclable packaging. Recycle as much plastic as you can.

Every little action counts in the big picture!

Zale’s Tales-A Children’s Book Review

By , June 1, 2015 8:08 am
Zale's Tales Book Review

Zale's Tales by Everett Taylor

Zale’s Tales is a children’s book written and illustrated by a husband and wife team under the pen name of Everett Taylor.

Zale’s Tales follows the adventures of a boy who picks up a special pearl on the beach. Instantly he is in the ocean and is transformed into a sailfish! Zale loses the magic pearl (fish don’t have any pockets!) and has a long journey ahead to retrieve the pearl. His journey is filled with transformations into animals such as a mako shark and a giant squid.

Zale’s Tales is a beautifully illustrated and innovative children’s book. I enjoyed the illustrations, and my 5 year old daughter enjoyed Zale’s adventures in the ocean. This book is a great introduction to the ocean world and its inhabitants for young and old alike. I highly recommend this book to any ocean lovers, or to those who would like to nurture the next generation of ocean lovers.

Note: I did receive a review copy of this book, but I reviewed it as honestly as possible.
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Guest Post- Jane Cui and Southeast Asia Diving

By , May 26, 2015 12:13 pm
National Geographic Raja Ampat Indonesia

Scuba Diver in Raja Ampat, Indonesia Copyright National Geographic

5 Amazing Places to Scuba Dive in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian waters contain the Coral Triangle, an area that comprises Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and East Timor.

The Coral Triangle has the largest amount of marine biodiversity in the world, including around 500 species of coral, according to the WWF foundation.

Scuba diving in the Coral Triangle is world-class. More than 3000 species of fish live there in a range of habitats that support almost 25% of marine life on Earth.

This is a list of 5 fantastic places to scuba dive in Southeast Asia:

1. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

“Raja Ampat” means “Four Kings” in Indonesian, and refers to the four islands that surround the reef and surrounding ocean.

Raja Ampat is number one on this list because it has the some of the world’s healthiest reefs. You can see a high density of hard and soft coral all around the four islands. Marine surveys by Conservation International has shown that the marine diversity here is the highest recorded in Southeast Asia.

Raja Ampat, located in a strategic position between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, is remote and undisturbed by human interaction. It is a top priority region for conservation due to its function as a fish larval dispersal area.

2. Sipadan, Malaysia

Sipadan Island is the place to see large pelagic fish such as barracuda, jackfish, and groupers. The island sits on the remnants of an extinct underwater volcano. The nutrients from the ashes of the volcanic eruption has given life to a large coral reef which covers the underwater wall next to the island.

More than 3000 species of marine life have been classified in Sipadan. Unfortunately, Sipadan has been affected by coral bleaching in the past, and the remnants of this damage remains.

Recent conservation efforts by the Malaysian Government has stopped development of resorts on the island.

3. Republic of Palau

The coral reefs in the tiny nation of Republic of Palau are unique. They are located in an area where 3 major currents in southeast Asia meet. The dive sites here are home to more than one thousand identified species of fish, and over five hundred species of coral and anemone. Because of the high current, scuba diving here can be rough, but the visibility can extend 20-30 meters.

Palau is also the home of Jellyfish Lake, a marine lagoon connected to the ocean through an underwater reef system. The jellyfish in the lake have been isolated for 12,000 years, and have evolved to lose their stingers. Only snorkeling is allowed in the Jellyfish Lake. The bubbles from the oxygen tanks of scuba divers harm the jellyfish.

4. Similan Islands, Thailand

The Similan Islands Marine National Park, located west of Thailand, are made of granite boulders formed by the eruption of an ancient volcano around 65 million years ago. The sea slopes down, dropping around 70 meters, and are covered by coral. The scuba diving hilight here is the cavernous underwater topography. The currents at the Similans can be strong.

The Similans also have a turtle hatching program, as several marine turtle species lay eggs on the islands. Several Thai marine biologists have blamed excessive tourist activity for the damage to coral reefs around the popular Tachai island. As a result, a few islands are now closed to the public.

5. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

Located in the ocean between India and Myanmar, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are in a remote location far from human activity. The Andaman Islands are a chain of over 500 mostly uninhabited islands and are an extension of the mountain range of Myanmar.

Due to the isolation of Andaman and Nicobar islands, the marine and terrestrial life have evolved over thousands of years in a unique way. Ten percent or more of the life here is endemic.

Thus, the scuba diving here is pristine and untouched. Some of the dive sites here have a clear visibility of up to 30 meters. Andaman offers hard black coral that are rare in other Southeast Asian waters.

Biography: Jane Cui is the owner of Down Under Scuba. Follow her on twitter @janecui11 for information on scuba diving in Southeast Asia.

Interview-Tim White & Shark Finning

By , May 18, 2015 8:08 am
Timothy White Hopkins Marine Station

Tim White building his housing

On April 18, 2015 I attended MARINE’s (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education) Ocean Colloquium. There I heard Tim White of Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University speak about shark finning in a remote Pacific island. This interview was conducted by e-mail:

1. Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University.

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in biology, I was lucky to become involved in a few different marine experiences. I spent one autumn interning as a research diver within the National Park Service , and that following winter I worked as a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea. After a few months on crab boats it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t stay at that gig forever. Very cool learning experience, but it was time to search out other opportunities. We would stay out at sea for a few weeks, and then have spend a busy 24 hours in port offloading crab before heading back out to sea. During one of those offloads in Dutch Harbor, I searched through online conservation job boards, found a posting for a research technician position through Stanford/Hopkins Marine Station, and it worked out!

2. What is shark finning?
Shark finning is a harmful fishing practice that is driven by the demand for shark fin soup. Sharks are captured, their fins are cut off, and the carcasses are often dumped back into the ocean. The fins end up being used in shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some cultures. In the fishery that I ended up studying the fishermen would actually keep the carcass, but the motivation to hunt sharks still stemmed from the fact that shark fins can be incredibly valuable. The arbitrary and extreme value of shark fins has senselessly put them at great risk – much like the plight of rhinoceroses and their horns.

3. How did you become interested in shark finning?
My overarching motivation is to study the ways that humans impact the ocean, so that we can mitigate and minimize impacts as needed. My involvement with shark finning began once I was hired at Stanford, but I’ve been interested in marine conservation and fisheries ecology for years so the topic has always been loosely on my mind.

4. Where did you study shark finning? Briefly describe your exciting journey getting there.
We studied shark finning in the country of Kiribati, which is an island nation that spans thousands of miles along the equatorial Pacific. I spent three months on an island that is located 1000 miles south of Hawaii. Getting to this remote location was challenging but necessary; one objective was to study shark finning in a region with minimal external/industrial fisheries, and the island of Teraina certainly fit the bill. I flew into an island called Christmas Island and was lucky enough to join a sailing cargo ship that was passing through the region. That fantastic ship dropped me on the island of Teraina and said goodbye. I was certainly happy to see their sails along the horizon three months later – I hadn’t seen another ship since they dropped me off!

5. How did you communicate with the natives?
This project was made possible by some really meaningful partnerships between some Stanford researchers and the communities of Kiribati. My advisors have been working in the region for nearly a decade. In Kiribati, they primarily speak a language called Gilbertese and their English proficiency varies by island. On the particular island I stayed on the prevalence of English was very limited. I began learning Gilbertese on the sail over to the island, so I still had lots to learn! After a few weeks of charades and lots of translation help from a few English-speaking friends, I became competent in the day-to-day essentials like fishing terms, foods, pleasantries. Being 100% immersed in the language certainly helped – I spent nearly every day aboard Kiribati fishing boats that exclusively spoke Gilbertese, so it was a sink or swim scenario.

Timothy White Hopkins Marine Station

Tim White measuring a shark


6. What were the main lessons you learned there?
We tried to take a broad, interdisciplinary look at shark finning. While I was there I collected data on the motivations of shark finning, the species involved in the trade, the impacts on shark populations, and the benefits to local fishermen. It was no surprise for us to learn that shark finning appears to be having really drastic impacts on local shark populations, though this was an important trend to measure. Sometimes folks assume that these tiny, remote islands are in relatively good shape, but this showed that even traditional technology (canoes/single hooks) could have really devastating impacts on shark species in a short time frame.

7. How do you think we can solve shark finning, especially as consumers?
As consumers we need to be sure to absolutely avoid unsustainable shark products. Conservationists have approached this problem from a number of ways. From the conversations I’ve had, it seems like one of the most effective strategies to reduce shark finning is to reduce consumer demand. Conservation groups have launched awareness campaigns in regions of high shark fin consumption, such as Hong Kong. It appears that the general public demand for shark fins is decreasing as people become more aware of the damage that the practice can cause.

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