Category Archives: Marine Life

The Great Barrier Reef

Many things have been discovered in our oceans by divers, from lost sunken ships, buried treasures of old, to possible proof of ancient civilizations. But one thing that has fascinated me for years is the Great Barrier Reef. You can find images online of beautiful and vivid coral, fish, and other amazing aquatic life. Its on my list of places to see before I leave this world.

Being the world’s largest reef system it is home to over 2,900 separate reefs with more than 900 islands covering the expanse of the reef. In fact, the reef is so large that it can be seen from space. It is home to thirty different species of porpoises, whales and dolphins, 17 species of sea snakes and over 1,500 species of fish. In fact, 10% of our world’s entire species of fish are found within the Great Barrier reef. And lastly, about 330 different species of ascidians, also known as sea squirts, reside on the reef system.

Its not only people who come to visit the reef either. It has been recorded that 6 species of sea turtles visit the reef to breed, and 215 species of birds come to roost or nest on the surrounding islands.

I bet you’re wondering how such a huge host to living things was formed? The Great Barrier Reef is an ancient place that is mainly composed of coral; live coral that dies and becomes a foundation for more live coral to grow. There are generations of coral formed on the reef and it has been dated as far back as 20 million years. The huge stone walls of the reef are covered in all form of living organisms, such as anemones, algae, crustaceans, sponges, coral, starfish, snakes, turtles, worms. Fish and a plethora of plant species.

In recent decades we have heard a lot about the fate of the Great Coral Reef and the many things that threaten its delicate ecosystem. Climate change is the largest of these threats with warmer temperatures in the ocean putting a significant amount of stress on the coral, causing the coral to bleach. Coral bleaching is when the coral expels all of the algae that symbiotically loves within the coral system from it tissues, causing the coral to turn white. In 1998 and 2002 there was a mass coral-bleaching event that took place. The 2002 event was the worst resulting in over 50% of the coral to experience some degree of bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef’s health has also been affected by the run-offs of river catchments that have pollution in them. Tourism can also be a problem, with over 2 million people visiting the reef each year, and needs to be closely monitored to keep this delicate ecosystem safe. Many groups are working to help keep this beautiful underwater wonder safe and in good health. It would be a shame for us to lose something so wonderful that is an extremely important asset to our planet.

Problems Our Oceans are Facing

Problems Our Oceans are Facing

Talking about the Great Barrier Reef and its delicate nature made me think about all of our planet’s oceans and some of the problems they are facing as well. I mean the oceans are part of our biggest resource for sustaining life on this planet. Its where we get food, water and natural resource found beneath its depths. The oceans have the possibility to give us many eco-solutions but right now they are dealing with some major stress factors. Some may think that the negative impact on the oceans won’t affect us so much, but it affects the life in the sea that can have a huge impact on life on dry land too. Here are some of the biggest issues our oceans are dealing with;

Dying Coral Reefs

Its not just the Great Barrier Reef that is under stress here. I’m talking about all coral reefs needing protection. They support such an enormous amount of sea life that in turn support bigger sea creatures and us human beings.

Pollution

Did you know that there is a vortex of trash spinning around in the Pacific Ocean, now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? I mean this thing is said to be the size of Texas and its planted right smack in the middle of the ocean. Its made up of all rubbish that is unable to decompose naturally, such as plastics, chemical sludge and debris that has gotten trapped in the mess by the waters currents. It was Charles Moore who came across this heap of floating trash in 1999. Lately, this area has gotten a lot of attention from eco organizations who are working to launch clean-up efforts.

Marine life can be greatly affected by what gets dumped into the waters as well. Old fishing equipment that can still snag and kill marine life, plastic rubbish that can trap, choke and kill fish, toxic chemicals that kill off the ecosystem are just a few of the consequences.

Overfishing/Unsustainable Fishing

Its not just the fact that we are overfishing, but how we do it. Many destructive methods are used in catching fish, like bottom trawling for instance. This method destroys the sea bed and any habitats living there, as well as catches a lot of fish and sea animals that are not wanted. Those get thrown aside and wasted. Far too many fish are being drawn from the oceans as well, with many of the species in our waters being added to the endangered species list. We are basically fishing ocean life into extinction. When one species dies out it affects the whole chain of life by starving other species.

Dead Zones in the Ocean

Another effect of global warming are dead zones in the ocean. These are areas that are unable to support life due to a lack of oxygen content. So far there are about 400 known dead zones to exist and this is a rapidly growing number. It seems that the pesticides and fertilizers we use, that run off the land and into the oceans play a large part in the creation of dead zones.

The bottom line is, we need our oceans and the life it supports, which in turn helps to support us. Part of the solution is learning about what is happening and then being aware of the effects our carbon footprint has on a larger scale. I know that I want to be able to show my kids and grandkids, maybe even great grandkids the beauty and wonders of the oceans. I just hope they will still be around by then!

Facts About the World’s Oceans

world-ocean

I want to share some of the fun and interesting facts that I have learned about the oceans of the world. We have 5 oceans that currently cover the surface of our planet; the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern and Arctic oceans.

The Pacific Ocean

The largest of our five oceans, the Pacific blankets over 30% of the surface of our planet. The furthest depth to be recorded in the Pacific Ocean is 35,827 feet (10,920m) and has been named Challenger Deep. This spot is situated close to Guam. The Pacific is also home to the biggest coral reef to be found in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, which can be found just off of the coast of Australia.

The word Pacific itself comes from the Latin word for peaceful, pacificus. One fact I find somewhat amusing is that the Pacific Ocean is also home to the famous Ring of Fire, where a ring of volcanoes sit…not a very peaceful ring.

The Atlantic Ocean 

Next is our Atlantic Ocean, which is the second largest on the planet but only half the size of the Pacific Ocean. It sits between the continents of Europe, Africa and America and covers around 20% of the surface of the Earth. This ocean has been expanding in size however, spreading its way along the mid-Atlantic coastline. It has been recorded to move 1 to 3 inches per year due to the tectonic plates shifting away from each other.

The Atlantic Ocean is home to many islands, such as the Bahamas, Spain’s Canary Islands, Portugal’s Azores, the Cap Verde Islands, and Greenland, the largest island to be found on the planet.

The Indian Ocean

We can find the Indian Ocean between Asia/Australia and Africa. This is the world’s third largest ocean that covers about 28,350,000 square miles (1/5) of the Earth’s surface. And it connects a record number of countries and islands. It is also the warmest of our 5 oceans but because of its temperature it can only support a limited amount of sea life.

It is the most important route of transport for moving oil because of it bridges the gap between countries rich in oil, such as Asia and the Middle East. You can see oil tankers here every day, each carrying around 17 million barrels of oil in its crude form.

The Indian Ocean is where you can find the breeding grounds for humpback whales and a fish that was long believed to be extinct, the Coelacanth.

The Southern Ocean

We find the Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean, situated around the South Pole just off of Antarctica and just across what is known as the Antarctic circle. It is our 4th largest ocean at 35 million square km, but there have been arguments through the decades regarding where this Ocean’s boundaries really lie, with some geographers feeling that there really is no Southern Ocean, so to speak, but rather that it is just extensions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

This is the home for the world’s largest species of penguin, the Emperor Penguin, and the wandering albatross. It is where we find 90% of the ice on our planet and the surrounding continent is the coldest, windiest and driest to be found in the world.

The Arctic Ocean 

Over in the North Pole, and just across from the Arctic circle is where we will find the Arctic Ocean. The ice that covers the Arctic Ocean has been slowly shrinking by around 8% per decade. Many explorers visited the areas around the Arctic Ocean and you can find a number of ground features that are names after some of them, such as Mendeleyev Ridge and the Nansen Basin.

The Arctic Ocean is also home to many polar bears and the Lion’s mane jellyfish, which is known to grow as large as 8 feet across. It survives on the fish and plankton found in the Atlantic’s depths.

How Our Oceans Where Formed

For my first blog post I wanted to talk about how our beautiful oceans came into being. The oceans make up about 2/3 (or 70%) of the Earth’s surface. However, the Earth itself is much older than the oceans that have formed on it. That’s right! About 4.5 billion years ago, this planet was a dust bowl. It wasn’t until around 3.8 billion years ago that the oceans started to form. So how did that happen?

Well, there are a two main theories out there regarding how these bodies of water came into being. The first one is a theory that, when the Earth was formed, water was part of the process. But the water itself came from deep within the Earth. So the belief is that the water was always there, it just needed time to rise to the surface and gather into pools that would continue to grow.

The second theory is that the Earth was not formed with water at all. So where on Earth did all of that water come from? It is believed that water was brought to this planet via other sources as they crossed our planet’s path when it was very young.

The majority of science follows the first theory though, so let’s have a look at that. Earth was believed to be a boiling hot and arid planet when it started out. Materials and gases where trapped in its atmosphere but it was far too hot for any liquid water to form. It would have just boiled away into steam and gas again.

However, over time the Earth started to cool. Once temperatures hit below boiling point, all of that water vapour began to fall as rain. It is said that it continued to fall for centuries. As it did this, water was able to remain in its liquid state on the ground, draining into all of the Earth’s hollows until they grew into what we know as our oceans today. It’s the force of gravity that keeps our oceans from departing from this planet.

All of those billions of years ago, the seas more than likely covered our entire planet and reached depth unknown as water kept falling and collecting. It wasn’t until things settled a bit and geological processes started to take over to raise the lands that would shape and divide this huge body of water covering the planet.

It was the tectonic plates and a lot of shifting that played a big role in shaping the surface of the Earth and its oceans. It was around 120 millions years ago that the oceans we know as the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic took shape as landmasses broke apart.

One aspect of the formation of the oceans, that remains partly misunderstood, is how each ocean got its specific characteristics, like its salt content. Where did all of that salt come from? The theory here is that it was the volcanic activity releasing huge amounts of chlorine into the Earth’s atmosphere alongside water in its vapour state combining to create hydrochloric acid. When hydrochloric acid fell back to the ground trapped in rainwater it would flow over the Earth’s surface. This acidic mix would strip away at the rocks and strip out the salts along the way, sodium in particular. When the atoms of sodium mixed with chlorine atoms it created what is now known as our common table salt, sodium chloride. This is the primary salt content found in the oceans today.

Amazing, and at times Bizarre Sea Life

Frilled Shark

As I mentioned earlier, our oceans are home to many familiar and strange creatures, and those are just the ones we have discovered so far. I have to say that, as much as I love the oceans, some of these kind of frighten me. I’ll share some of the creepier ones with you.

The Frilled Shark – this one has been referred to as a living fossil because it shares many of its ancestors’ physical traits from the age of dinosaurs. It likes living in the depths of the ocean, about 5,000 under the surface of the water, so we humans don’t encounter this one often, something I can say I am glad of. It was originally discovered in 2007 in the shallow waters of Japan. However, it died a few hour after being captured and moved to a marine park. These beasties can grow to over 5 feet and are mainly seen (or not seen in most cases) in the depths of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. While little is known about its eating habits, scientist have speculated that it acts much like a snake catching its prey, bending its body back and then shooting forward to swallow its prey whole.

The Vampire Squid – This one sounds like something from a B horror movie or something Captain Nemo would face off against under the sea. It has a tendency to lurk in the light free depths of the ocean, around 10,000 feet below the surface. But that isn’t why it is called a vampire. That name was given to it due to its darkly coloured, webbed arms that it uses to draw over itself like a cloak. They use their eyes, which are said to be the largest peepers to be found on any or Earth’s animals, to navigate in the murky dark. It is found mostly in the tropical and temperate oceans of the world and is able to live on oxygen levels that are quite low. Its this squid’s defence mechanism, however that are most amazing. When under threat, it releases an ink that is bioluminescent to confuse and dazzle its predators while it makes a quick escape. If it knows its been spotted, it will wrap itself up in its “cloak” and virtually disappear from sight.

The Big Red Jellyfish – Its big! And red…and a jellyfish. There is more to it than that however. This jellyfish, part of the jellyfish family known as Ulmaridae, was discovered in 2003 by crew members from MBARI ( Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute ). It is the only one of its kind to be found so far and is the largest to be found around the world. Its scientific name is Tiburonia and it can live at a depth of 2,000 to nearly 5,000 feet bellow the ocean’s surface. It’s been sighted in many areas around the Pacific Ocean in Japan, Monterey Bay, Sea of Cortez and Hawaii. They grow to a diameter of about 30 inches and have a deep red colouring. What makes it really interesting is that it has arms instead of the usual undulating tentacles found on most jellyfish,

The Giant Isopod – This is another one that I could easily see being in a sci-fi movie. There are about 20 species of large isopods, a crustacean that is related to crabs and shrimp. They thrive in the deeper and colder waters of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans and are considered to be scavengers of importance in this deep-sea environment, from as high up as 560 feet to the total pitch darkness of 7,020 feet. I feel a bit bad for it because it is mainly forced to creep along the bottom of the ocean’s floors in the waters that are dark, cold (about 39 °F) and have a very low pressure.

These are just a mere handful of the wonders to be found in the oceans depths, and not all are frightening. They sure do raise a lot of questions for me though, and a few hackles.