Coral Reef Bleaching and The Great Barrier Reef

coral reefs of Great Barrier Reef, coral reef bleaching
Photo credit: FarbenfroheWunderwelt via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Why are the corals on the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia bleaching? Why is coral reef bleaching important?

First a little background on corals.

Hi, I’m Polly, a coral polyp. The animal you think of as “coral” is actually made up of lots of little coral polyps. We use calcium carbonate to make our skeleton and many of us together make the base of a coral reef.

We’re only millimeters wide (0.1 inch) and centimeters deep (1.2 inches) with tentacles sticking out. We use our tentacles to find food floating in the water.

But our main source of food is made for us by our friends inside us, the zooanthellae. These are our photosynthetic symbionts. In other words, the plants inside of us use sunlight to make the food that we eat. These zooanthellae are important to us, but when exposed to stressors like increased heat or acidity, they often expel themselves from us. This causes coral reef bleaching.

Coral reef bleaching can be caused by the ocean warming due to climate change. The ocean absorbs 90 percent of the heat in the atmosphere caused by human activities. Coral bleaching can also be affected by ocean acidification. The ocean becomes more acidic (like soda or stomach acid) when it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is also pollution of all sorts, including plastic, chemical, and sediments that can also cause the coral reef to bleach.

A recent scientific study found that “huge portions” of the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef died last year (2016) due to warming seawater. Just an increase of two or three degrees Fahrenheit (1.2-1.6 degrees Celsius) can cause coral reef bleaching. The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching as we speak.

So why do we need coral reefs? Coral reefs house twenty-five percent of all marine life in the oceans.
One billion people rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein
, and many of those in developing countries rely upon coral reefs for it.

So what can you do? Here are some excerpts from the Nature Conservancy’s 10 Easy Steps to Protect Coral Reefs

1. Support businesses such as fishing, boating, hotel, aquarium, dive or snorkeling operators that protect coral reefs.
2. Practice safe snorkeling and diving practices such as not touching the coral and not anchoring on coral.
3. Volunteer on vacation to clean-up a coral reef or help plant one.
4. Plant a tree to reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
5. Dispose of your trash (or recycle!) properly, especially near the ocean. Better yet, join a beach clean-up.

Also see Ollie the Octopus on Coral Bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef

Meet Cooper the Copepod & Learn About Microplastics

copepods & microplastics
Meet Cooper the Copepod to learn more about microplastics photo by Uwe Kils Wikimedia Commons

Hi! I’m Cooper the Copepod. What is a Copepod? Well, I am a tiny animal that is part of the plankton. Plankton are the microscopic plants and animals that make up the base of the food chain in the ocean. I have a teardrop-shaped body and long curved antennae.

I am the fastest and strongest jumper on the planet, even faster than jumping land animals like kangaroos! But while I am only 1-2 millimeters long, I reach speeds of 2-4 miles per hour (3-6.4 km/hr) while jumping. The equivalent in a human would be a 5 foot 8 inch person going a whopping 3,800 mph while jumping! (livescience’s article flea-sized creatures are the fastest jumpers)

I’m here today not to impress you with my stats, but to talk to you about garbage in our oceans, specifically microplastics. Plastic pollution in our oceans is a big deal. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans each year. You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, one of many garbage patches in our oceans. They are mainly made up of plastic waste such as soda bottles, bottlecaps, plastic flatware, plastic grocery bags, and discarded plastic fishing nets.

But more important and insidious are the microplastics. These plastic particles are less than 5 mm in size. They include microbeads from beauty products (like exfoliants for your skin), microfibers from washing synthetic clothing (polyester and nylon microfibers are not caught by lint traps nor at the filters in sewage treatment plants) and plastic fragments worn down from larger plastic products.

To tiny critters like me, the microplastic looks good enough to eat, and we do that when come across it. Animals larger than us such as fish eat us, and so on up the food chain until we get to predators such as sharks, tuna, sea turtles and humans. Did you know you contain several pounds of plastic in your body?

Up to 8 trillion microbeads enter the waterways of the United States everyday (CNN Obama bans microbeads). But fortunately in December 2015 the U.S. outlawed the use of microbeads in health and beauty products by 2017!

There is still the matter of other micro and macro plastics in the ocean—the best way to take care of them is to reduce the amount of plastic now entering our oceans. For the sake of me and my neighbors, please recycle plastics! Also take part in beach cleanups or even just clean up in your neighborhood—as Gill said in Finding Nemo, “All drains lead to the ocean, kid.”

10 Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Facts: the Biggest Jellyfish

Lion's Mane Jellyfish facts
Lion's Mane Jellyfish photo by: NOAA

10 Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Facts: the Biggest Jellyfish

1. The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish is the biggest Jellyfish in the world. 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.

Also see: 10 Jellyfish Facts for Kids
Why Jellyfish may become the “Cockroaches of the Sea”
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish from Oceana

10 Sea Sponges Facts You Didn’t Know About

Blue Vase Sponge photo by: Cherilyn Chin
blue vase sponge, sea sponges facts

10 Sea Sponges Facts You Didn’t Know About

1. Sea Sponges are animals, not plants.

2. Sea Sponges have been in the ocean for 500 million years.

3. Sea Sponges don’t move, but they filter lots of water for food (plankton) and oxygen.

4. Sea Sponges are among the most simple of multi-cellular organisms.

5. There are about 5,000 species of sea sponges worldwide.

6. Some sponges are found in freshwater lakes and rivers.

7. The smallest sea sponges are 1 inch long (3 cm) (or flat against a rock), the largest over 4 feet tall (1 m).

8. Sponges do not have heads, eyes, brains, arms, legs, ears, muscles, nerves or organs!

9. Sea Sponges have pores that filter water in for food and oxygen, and pores that push out waste.

And the last sea sponges fact is:
10. Sea Sponges have few predators other than sea turtles, and fish because some produce toxins.

For more information see: Sea Sponges: Pharmacies of the Sea from the Smithsonian

Also see: 10 Fabulous Sea Cucumber Facts

10 Fabulous Sea Snakes Facts

Banded Sea Krait, sea snakes facts
Banded Sea Krait photo by: Cherilyn Chin

Note on picture: Sea kraits are sea snakes that go onto land, true sea snakes spend their whole lives in the water.

10 Fabulous Sea Snakes Facts

1. Sea snakes are reptiles and need to breathe air.

2. 50 different species of true sea snakes live in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

3. A beaked sea snake venom is 4x more deadly than a cobra’s.

4. Sea snakes move by wriggling like an “S”

5. Most sea snakes are 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) long, but some can reach lengths of 8 feet (2.4 meters).

6. A sea snake can hold its breath for 2-3 hours!

7. A sea snakes spits out excess salt on its forked tongue.

8. True sea snakes do not lay eggs. The eggs develop in the female and the young are born alive.

9. Sea snakes have 2-20 young, around 12 inches long (0.3 meters)

And the last sea snakes fact is:
10. The few predators sea snakes have are sharks, moray eels, sea eagles (a type of bird).

Also see: 10 Fabulous Sea Cucumber Facts
As well as: Snake Facts-Sea Snakes and Water Snakes from Kidzone