This Week in Marine Science

Written by on November 22, 2013 in Other News

Other stories worth reading this weekend:

Breakthrough for Biofuel Production
Researchers have long been looking for economically viable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. One possible solution is biofuel from marine algae, but there is one roadblock: Algae mainly produces the desired lipid oils (which are necessary for fuel) when starved of nutrients. However, if they are limited in nutrients, they don’t grow well. With a healthy diet, they grow well, but don’t produce lipids. Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have developed a method to avoid this catch-22. By genetically altering diatoms (a group of microscopic algae) researchers were able to increase lipids without compromising growth. This method would lower the cost and speed up the production of biofuels.

Costa Rica’s legislative candidates are no-shows at ocean-policy meeting
At the Legislative Assembly earlier this week, fishermen, NGOs and environmentalists gathered to discuss the future of public policy for Costa Rica’s oceans. Though they were all invited, none of the 2014 legislative candidates showed up. At the meeting, they discussed the “great holes” in Costa Rican marine legislation, overfishing, and ways to improve ocean management. The fact that none of the legislative candidates showed highlights the “complete abandon” of Costa Rica’s oceans.

Emperor penguin.

Emperor penguin. Photo credit NOAA.

The Decline and Fall of the Emperor Penguin?
A new study reveals that if global temperatures continue to rise, the colony of emperor penguins in Terre Adélie in East Antarctica will disappear. The decline in penguins is connected to the decline in Antarctic sea ice. Emperor penguins breed and raise their young on sea ice so if it disappears earlier in the breeding season, they will be in big trouble. The study shows roughly 500 to 600 breeding pairs remaining by the year 2100, compared with around 3,000 pairs today.

Did Ancient Climate Change Spur Penguin Evolution?
Based on DNA evidence, a new study suggests that today’s penguin lineages began to separate around 11 to 16 million years ago, and that their common ancestor appeared 20 million years ago, which coincides with a time when Antarctica underwent a period of rapid cooling that covered the continent in ice. However, penguin-like fossils date as far back as 62 million years, so what happened in the gap between then and the time when the ancestor of today’s penguins arrived? Researchers are wondering if the extinction of all other older lineages was a result of changes in Antarctica’s climate.

Drones Help Monitor Marine Animals
Unmanned aircraft can be a valuable tool for marine conservation. Aerial surveys of marine animals are typically done by a few people in a small plane who record sightings of whales, dolphins, manatees and other marine life, but they are expensive trips and usually restricted to areas near shore. Drones can be used for the same purpose for less money and with more accuracy.

English seas get new marine conservation zones
A total of 27 new marine conservation zones (MCZs) will be established to protect seahorses, coral reefs, oyster beds and other marine life from dredging and bottom-trawling along English coasts. This is a great start, but the Marine Conservation Society warned that there are still fewer than a quarter of the number of MCZs recommended by scientists. The plan for new MCZs initially called for the creation of 127 sites. That number was reduced to just 31 earlier this year and was eventually reduced to the current 27.

Elysia timida, one of the green sea slug species.

Elysia timida, one of the green sea slug species. Photo credit: wikimedia commons.

Green sea slugs aren’t solar powered after all
Chloroplasts are the organelles in plants that convert light to energy and give plant cells their green color. Several species of sacoglossan sea slugs feed on large unicellular algae and hold on to the algae’s chloroplasts for a few weeks before digesting them. Four of those species hold on to them for months, which turns the slugs green, giving them the nickname “solar-powered slugs,” because scientists thought they could use the chloroplasts to make energy. But a new study found that at least two of the four species are not powered by the sun at all.

Jellyfish love the oceans we pollute
Jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin writes that “any place oceans are in trouble, jellyfish are taking over.” Jellyfish love warm waters, which are becoming more common as global temperatures rise. As we continue to overfish krill in Antarctica, jellyfish are moving in. This is a big problem because jellyfish flip the food chain upside down. Instead of increasing in energy as you go up the food chain (shrimp have more energy than the plankton they eat; the fish that eats shrimp has even more energy and so on), jellyfish are a low-energy choice, sequestering the energy they obtain from their prey. So what do we do about this jellyfish problem? Check out this interesting post to see what Gershwin has to say.


Manatees. Photo credit: Laurel Canty-Ehrlich, NOAA.

Manatees that survive Red Tide may suffer immune problems
More than 270 manatees have died along Florida’s Gulf Coast from a red tide bloom. This is the worst manatee die-off on record. Researchers are now learning that the manatees that survive exposure to red tide blooms may end up with compromised immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases and other problems, including stress from cold. Researchers don’t yet know how long these other effects will last, but they have previously found that red tide toxins stay in sea turtles’ bodies for up to 80 days.

New species of crustacean discovered in California
Researchers have discovered a new species of crustacean, Liropus minusculus, found on the coast of California. Males measure around 3.3 mm and females around 2.1 mm. Other specimens of Liropus can be found in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. The discovery of one in the North Pacific will help researchers understand more about its speciation process.

Post-shutdown, UW Arctic research flights resume
During the federal government shutdown, research flights over Arctic ice were put on hold. Now, researchers from University of Washington are back at work, monitoring the heat radiating off the surface of the ice to see how it will affect the ‘polar vortex’. The polar vortex is a huge weather feature that can affect storms throughout the Northern Hemisphere. When the polar vortex is strong, it is stable. When it is weak, cold air starts moving south, creating wintery storms in the east coast of the U.S., Northern Europe and Eastern Asia.

Ten steps to ocean health
The Global Ocean Commission, which focuses its work on the internationally-governed high seas, has refined ocean concerns into 10 key areas where there is “significant concern or an opportunity to make a substantive advance.” These areas include climate change, pollution, deep seabed mining, fisheries subsidies, marine protected areas, IUU fishing and more. The next step will be to take these 10 areas and create a set of realistic recommendations for positive change.

Jellyfish are found in all the world's oceans.

Jellyfish are found in all the world’s oceans. Photo credit: Nicolas Hoizey via photopin cc.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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